When news broke earlier this week that Facebook was using smartphone location data to suggest new friends to users, some people were upset about the privacy implications. One unfortunate scenario proposed by the Fusion.net writer who broke the story: You are one of a dozen people at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a church basement, and then Facebook starts sending out invitations to all those strangers to connect with you.
Facebook had initially confirmed the report, according to the writer, Kashmir Hill, but has since backtracked and said that it had only tested the feature, without rolling it out to most users.
It's not unusual for the social network to face criticism over how it introduces new capabilities. In 2010, people were annoyed when they starting being added to groups without their consent, and in 2011 Facebook users were irritated when sponsored stories started turning them into pitchmen for advertisers. More recently, users fretted over privacy when the company started using facial recognition software to suggest photo tags.
Facebook may not be tracking users' excursions to match them with friends, but it does tap that information for other purposes. Here's how you can keep the company from accessing your phone's location data, along with tips on more ways to enhance your privacy and security on Facebook.
Disable Location Services. By default, Facebook gathers location data and uses it for status updates and photo uploads. You can turn off location services from within the Facebook app or from the phone's own settings. On an iPhone, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Facebook and choose the Never option. Android users can go to Settings > Applications Manager > Facebook > Your Location, and slide the bar to the Off position.
Use Login Approvals. This is the moniker for Facebook's two-factor authentication option; you'll find it under the service's Security Settings. Turn it on, and Facebook will require a verification code whenever your account is accessed from an unverified location, computer, browser, or phone. Facebook sends the code to a email or mobile number you've designated, and you need to enter the code, along with your usual login credentials, to gain access to the account. It adds a layer of protection against unauthorized access.
Make yourself harder to find. Using the “Who can look me up?” section of Facebook’s Privacy Settings and Tools menu, you can control who can find you using your email address or phone number, and whether or not search engines can link to your profile. The Privacy Checkup tool will show you what information, such as your email address and birthday, is visible to friends and to the public.
Control who can see your posts. To do this, use the drop-down menu right next to the Post button. Choices include friends, the public, groups you belong to, and an option to build your own custom list. You can choose specific people to block (i.e. your direct superior in a workplace group you belong to.) This feature is not exclusive to statuses—photo albums can have custom viewer lists, too.
Choose who can add to your timeline. Enabling Timeline Review lets you control what’s allowed on your timeline by requiring you to approve each post. Notices asking for you to approve posts appear in the Activity Log portion of your profile page, alongside an overview of your Likes and images you’ve been tagged in.
Facebook allows users to add their friends to a group without consent; it's a sometimes problematic feature, as Mark Zuckerberg famously experienced. While there is no way to keep this from happening, you can use the Activity Log to see if you have been added to any groups. (You can then permanently remove yourself, if you choose.)
Stop your likes from becoming advertisements. You’ve probably seen posts reading “So-and-so likes this" with a sponsored link and a Like Page button. While you may like a company or group in the non-Facebook sense, that doesn't mean you want to publicly endorse it. To opt-out of this, go to the Ads section of the Settings menu and change the “Ads with my social actions” option to “No one.” This area of Settings also allows you to control whether Facebook can target you with ads based on your online activity.
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