With the news last week about Facebook Places (which is not universally available in all locations, and only on certain phones), it is time to take a closer look at your privacy settings for Facebook. While you are at it, you might as well look at the same for your LinkedIn account. Be prepared to spend a quiet hour or so debating the myriad of choices on both services.
Both of them have a long ways to go to make them simpler, and reek of a user interface that has awkwardly grown like topsy since they were started. And there is no guarantee that this guide will be relevant even next week, because they are constantly changing the options.
Let’s look first at Facebook. If you go into your Account/Privacy Settings, you have a main screen that shows you a grid, which right off the bat is confusing enough. There are options for four basic categories of contacts: Everyone, Friends of Friends, Friends Only, or “Other”. The other axis is different types of content, including your personal information such as your birthday (and I don’t recommend that people list their full real birthdays on Facebook for identity theft reasons), status updates, photos etc.
Facebook has its own recommended settings for this grid, or you can create your own customized privacy settings. I recommend you choose this latter route. You will see three groups of items: things that you share to others, things that others share with you, and contact info.
There are a couple of landmines in terms of privacy here. I recommend that you only share things with your friends, with the possible exception of your Websites and posts. If you are going to use Places, there is an entry at the bottom of this list that asks “Include me in ‘People Here how’ after I check in. This will let people know you’re at a particular location if people go to the Facebook page of that location or if they do a search for people near your location.
The more troubling setting is under the things that others share grouping. Think these through because this is where you can get into trouble. Do you really want to be tagged in all photos that friends post of you online? If you are a college student about to apply for your first job, maybe not. Do you want everyone to see your wall posts, even outside your network? Ditto. And the last option, “Friends can check me into Places” you should set to disable. If you enable this option, any friend could potentially check you in anywhere. You don’t actually have to be present to win, which could have unseen consequences.
Now let’s go over to LinkedIn’s settings. You will have to visit eight different screens to configure this, which again is more complicated than it should be. Some of these are simple binary yes/no choices: You can opt out of research surveys being sent your way, seeing ads, being part of their service provider directory, and whether you want to view other people’s profile photos. But a couple of these are important. Since the beginning, LinkedIn has the choice whether you want others to view your contacts information or not, what they list under the “Connections Browse” screen. I keep going back and forth on this one, but right now I have it set to no. Regardless of which you choose, your connections can still see if they share a connection with you when they search.
Another screen worth taking a closer look at is your Authorized Applications list. LinkedIn has been busy adding third-party applications (although they could be busier, if you asked me) and you may not realize how many of them can now connect to your account. Examples include automatic posting of WordPress or Typepad blog entries on your LinkedIn status page, showing your presentations in your Slideshare.net account, travel plans on Tripit, and others. If you want to add any of these applications, you have to edit your profile and hunt down the button for applications. It could be easier, which is probably why many of you don’t even know about this feature. I like the LinkedIn apps because they enable me to associate a lot of content with my profile, such as the slide decks for my speeches, where and when I am on the road, and so forth. Facebook has its own separate page to control what stuff their own apps have access to.
Finally, in a separate area are Twitter settings, where you can link the two services together and control what tweets get posted to your LinkedIn status update. Once you link them, you can share particular tweets with a special #in hashtag or share them all.
There are a lot more things to think about, including what information gets sent to your network when you add content to both services. This is why I recommend taking a chunk of time when you can think through the implications and make sure you have it all setup the way you want. Unfortunately, it should be easier than it is for configuring both services. Good luck and do share your own tips on my Strominator blog, or posting them on my Facebook page.