Lock FacebookWhen Facebook was released, I was a college student at one of the dozen or so universities first given access to Facebook. I was probably somewhere around the 50,000th user of the now 100,000,000, and I’ve watched it evole from a PHP script where you could find the cute girl down the hall knowing only her first name (and read her whole profile without even being friends!) to a massive corporation that connects nearly every young person in the western world.

The problems started coming when Facebook started allowing secrecy on your profile. You see, back in 2003, you knew anyone in your school could see everything, so you didn’t post private things (if you were smart and/or sober). Suddenly, “privacy options” appeared, and people uploaded content in confidence, but the privacy features didn’t actually work so well. On many occasions, the systems broke or were hacked, and now the picture of you doing a keg stand became accessible to your employer.

But, it got worse when Facebook started trying to make money. If there’s one threat to your privacy that’s close behind a government bent on “keeping you safe,” it’s an advertiser. All of the sudden, Facebook started asking you more questions. Where were you born? Would you like to tag your post with your current location? How old are you? My favorite is, “Where was this photo taken?” — did you notice that there’s no option to search your albums by location? Why, then, does Facebook want to know?

It gets one step worse, unfortunately. When this mountain of data is collected for the advertisers, it’s sitting there just waiting for a government subpoena. This is exactly what is meant by “metadata.” Maybe the government can’t see your pictures without a specific warrant (maybe!), but perhaps they are building a graph of where you’ve been, when you’ve been there, and who you’ve been with. Perhaps you happened to be in a bar at the same time as a known terrorist and both of you were on Facebook. Guess what happens now? They’re getting a warrant for you.

So, if you must use Facebook, here are some tips on reclaiming some of your privacy:

  • Never sync contacts with your cell phone. Do you really want Facebook to have access to your phonebook, which then is subject to being jacked by PRISM?
  • Avoid giving Facebook your location. Don’t “check in” somewhere (and if you feel like you really want to share with your friends the cool place you’re at, just type the name rather than tagging the location), don’t tag a location on anything (including pictures), and disable the little thing that tells where you are when you’re posting.
  • Your profile picture is accessible to everyone — even those who are not your friends. Remember that.
  • Don’t add people you don’t know as friends.
  • Don’t respond to surveys or feel compelled to answer any demographic-oriented questions.
  • Remember that ultimately, anything you post there or even say in a message may become public someday.

Be smart! 🙂

This is one of a 30-part series, “No Surveillance State Month,” where daily for the month of June I’ll be posting ways to avoid invasion of your privacy in the digital age. The intent of these posts is not to enable one to escape detection while engaging in criminal activity — there’s still the old-fashioned “send a detective to watch you” for which these posts will not help. Rather, this series will help you to opt-out of the en masse collection of data by the government and large corporations that places Americans in databases without their knowing and freely-given consent for indefinite time periods. We all have the right to privacy, and I hope you demand it.