How Secure Is Facebook?

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Almost everyone with a PC or smartphone uses it, but how secure is Facebook, how safe is your data, and how can you protect yourself?

Facebook is synonymous with social networking and media, and it’s the centre of many people’s social lives, both online and off. It’s seen off sites like MySpace and has become the undisputed king of online interactions. While services like Twitter allow you to share short thoughts, and Instagram provides tools for sharing your snaps, Facebook is your whole life, distilled into an ever updating news feed.

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A simple five-minute check of your feed on Facebook can easily turn into a much longer session of browsing through endless memes, jokes, videos and, of course, updates from friends and family. It’s addictive and can lead to productivity-destroying levels of procrastination. It’s great.

As Facebook became more and more popular since its inception, and more users took up the service, more attention turned to social media in general. Online social networking became a rock solid part of every day life, and what started out as a simple news feed quickly evolved and turned into the unstoppable juggernaut we see today. Quizzes, surveys, groups, games and all sorts of other features were added, and with this came even more interest. The bigger Facebook grew, the bigger a target it became for those who see it as an advertising platform or a target to steal data and information. Add to that the quick, unstoppable growth of mobile devices like smartphones, which Facebook is simply perfect for, and you’ve got quite the online collection of sensitive information – information that many people would like to have. There are ways to stay safer, though.

Hidden Threats

When you sign up for a Facebook account, you first create your own profile. This can contain your name, age, address, gender, profession, likes, dislikes, political stance and much more. It’s a veritable cross-section of your whole life, and this information is very valuable to the right person. It’s a marketer’s dream having so much useful information in one place, and should this be obtained, by means either fair or foul, you’ll quickly find yourself under fire from so much targeted advertising and mail bombs your spam filters could well melt down under the weight of it all.

Of course, the use of this information isn’t always used in such a benign (if annoying) way. Some parties attempt to use this in very illegal and damaging ways. Identity theft, credit card fraud and other crimes have been known to occur from online data leaks, making this problem go from an irritation to something much more serious.

Does this mean Facebook is dangerous? Should you keep your kids off it and even delete yourself? No, that would be an overreaction. It is important, however, to know the dangers and how to safeguard against them.

Controlled Information

Signing onto Facebook doesn’t mean you have to supply all of your information, and it’s important to remember this. Facebook doesn’t actually require a lot of the data it asks for, and as many times as it may nag you if it considers your profile to be incomplete, you shouldn’t feel pressured to give it everything it wants.

The only information you need to supply in order to create an account is your name, email address or phone number, a password, your birthday and your gender. That’s all you need. Other information you can give, such as your address, interests and so on are all optional. This means, if you so wish, you can be far less revealing about yourself but still gain the benefit of using Facebook to connect with friends. This also has the added benefit of making it more difficult for Facebook and affiliated third parties to assault you with targeted ads. If the information isn’t in your profile, all it can do is monitor your browsing habits. You’ll still get such junk, but maybe less.

That’s just a side effect, though. The real benefit here is your almost total secrecy. Facebook won’t know your physical address, your job, where you went to school and other potential intrusive and private information, and that’s key, as it’s always good to be frugal with your personal details in a public space, especially if you’re concerned about security online.

With Facebook, however, this is even more important, as there are so many ways for the social site and its various users to grab this information and use it. Even if you don’t supply this information in your profile, there are other ways you can be tricked, and it’s here where many find Facebook to be at its most nefarious.

Stealthy Intrusion

We’ve all seen the endless stream of ‘fun’ quizzes and surveys posted on Facebook. You know the ones. ‘Find out who secretly loves you.’ ‘Can we guess your taste in music?’ ‘What’s your IQ?’ The list goes on and on.

The majority of these are harmless enough, if inane, but some are a little more worrying, including ones that cannot be attempted without first providing access to your profile and/or friends list. As soon as this request is made for a simple online quiz, alarm bells should be sounding in your head.

It’s perfectly understandable (if not desirable) for an app like a GPS or a communication tool to need to access your current location or list of friends for chat purposes, such as Facebook’s own Messenger or Google Maps. Why, though, does a silly, time wasting quiz require such information?

The simple answer is most of the time it doesn’t. It simply wants the information. What is planned for this will vary. For the most part, it’s probably harmless and is simply for use in the activity, but sometimes it can be unsavoury. We’ve seen examples of people providing such information, only to notice posts on their timelines afterwards, which they didn’t actually type themselves. Coincidence? Maybe, but it’s not unheard of for this kind of thing to happen. This is just the visible sign of a potential misuse of your information; the ones that you don’t know about can be even worse.

For this reason, it’s always best to abstain from such activities. If quizzes or surveys like this ask for your information and you’re not sure if they’re trutworthy, just say no and scroll on. Even if such instances of problematic results are very rare, is it really worth the risk? No, not really, and it’s best to err on the side of caution. Let’s face it: most of these online quizzes are pointless and based on no real facts or science anyway. They can be fun, though, so it’s your call.

Choose Your Coverage

Facebook is very aware of people’s security needs and concerns, so over the years it’s spent time implementing various security settings, and we’d advise you make full use of them. You can choose who can see your posts, who can send you friend requests (everyone or just friends of friends),and, more importantly, who can look you up via email and phone number. You can also opt to have other search engines link to your account (insta-tip: say no).

You have to include an email when signing up for Facebook, but phone numbers are optional. If you included one, we’d suggest you be careful in terms of who can see it. It’s also wise to register for Facebook (and many other services) with a different email address to your main personal one. This avoids any potential junk mail being sent to your main email account.

Another useful option is found within the security settings. You can choose to use a different password for apps, instead of using your main Facebook account password, which is the default. This is to avoid being locked out of apps if you forget your main Facebook password, but it’s also a handy security option.

The security section also features useful additions, such as using security codes and the ability to get alerts if there’s a login on your account from a new device or browser. This can give you a heads up if someone logs in as you without you knowing. It’s all helpful, and with so much of your personal information possibly sitting in your account details, it’s all important.

It’s Not A Competition

In the early days of social media, there was pressure to gain as many friends and followers as possible. People would gladly exclaim how many Facebook friends they had, and it was seen as a status symbol of sorts for the online generation. Some saw it as a competition or race to get the highest number possible.

Some aspects of this competitive nature remain, such as celebrities and companies who all wish to have as many followers as possible, for fairly obvious reasons, but for the average user, it’s no longer that much of a concern. How many friends you have just isn’t important; it’s who you have in your list that’s crucial. What’s the point of adding friends left right and centre if you’ll never speak to the majority of them? Do you even know these people, and are they people you want seeing your personal posts and photos?

It’s far better to limit your Facebook friends to people you actually know. This way you can be sure no one is going to be untrustworthy, and you’ll feel more comfortable sharing your thoughts and pictures. After all, unless you’re a hugely confident, trusting and very open person, you wouldn’t simply walk into a bar and shout out details about your personal life to a crowd of random people, would you? Why do the same online?

Censorship

A feature of Facebook is the ability to ‘tag’ people in photos and posts. Doing this puts a post on that person’s timeline, which can be seen by anyone. This is normally perfectly fine, as it’ll usually be friends and family posting. However, occasionally you might see a post on your timeline you wish wasn’t there, for whatever reason. It can also be a security risk, as we mentioned earlier about potential posts from unknown parties. We’d recommend you enable tag reviewing. This will notify you of any posts you’re tagged in and won’t post them on your timeline unless you allow it.

You’ll find this option in your account settings under Timeline and Tagging. You can also review individual tags added to other posts before they’re made public, so this function extends beyond your own account and timeline and lets you control your presence elsewhere.

For those worried about offending friends and family by setting this option to active, don’t be. Remember, anyone’s account can be hijacked, as has been evident in the past, so posts from your loved ones may not even be legitimate and could be someone else. Again, this is going to be unlikely, but it does happen. You’re simply being cautious, and if you’re concerned about Facebook security, it’s something to look into. Friends and family should understand this.

The Obvious

Facebook is a very public and social site where people share their thoughts, opinions, gossip and much more with everyone else. Some people will post each and every thought that goes though their minds, while others like to share funny videos or jokes.

The most basic and straightforward way to stay safe when using it is to think about what you’re posting and second guess yourself. There were many tales back in the days of MySpace with people typing out totally public posts of where they were and what they were doing, including young girls at bars and people going on holiday. The same happens on Facebook.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that announcing to the world that you’re going to be away for a while and that your home will be empty is a bad idea. Likewise, young girls announcing that they’re going to be drinking, along with where, on a pubic forums is something that could lead to very serious consequences. It’s no joke.

Also, Facebook has an age limit of 13 for a reason, and it’s one of the main reasons setting up an account requires a birth date. As with many aspects of the internet, much if it isn’t for kids. It’s why parental controls are available. Facebook is no different, so you have to be 13 to use it.

Of course, Facebook can’t check each and every person’s real birth records, and birth dates are easily faked, with kids entering false dates to appear older. It’s here where parental control comes in, and children have to be monitored and educated. It’s easy to give in when your kids are unhappy and saying all their friends have it, but it’s important.

Lastly, never share your password. It’s the number one security tip for any secure system, and it applies just as much to Facebook. Don’t give out your login details to people you don’t trust (or to be perfectly secure, not even then). Also, be careful when logging into your account on a public terminal, such as a computer in a library. If you don’t log out correctly, someone could easily jump in and post as you (it has happened). Always be sure to make your password is strong and not too easy to guess. Some users even routinely change their passwords every few months.

Most public computer terminal software will automatically log you out and clear down any personal information, but it pays to double-check.

Is Facebook Safe?

We’ve looked as some simple ways to stay safe on Facebook, but the big question remains. Is Facebook safe or is it a risk? Yes, Facebook is safe and, yes, it can also be a risk, just like any online service. Many security problems often lie outside of a service and with external problems or user error. Using Facebook on an insecure network, for example, or if you have some sort of malware can open up a huge problems with the site, but this same problem would exist for any usually secure site you visit.

Facebook as an organisation takes security very seriously, and although there have been problems, with more likely to follow, it’s no less secure than many other sites people don’t think twice about.

The real problem is Facebook’s overbearing social weight. These days everyone is expected to have a Facebook account, and people think nothing of gladly typing in any and all information into it. This brazen focus on sharing each and every part of your life with others means the site is always going to be a risk and a prime target for those looking for such information. Information is power, as the saying goes, and for advertisers and marketers, this is very, very true.

At the end of the day, if you use Facebook responsibly and consider your own security, it’s not a problem, and you can use the service with no problems. It just takes some thought and a little self-control when it comes to sharing information. Keep a careful eye on services and apps that ask for access to your account details, and be sure to thoroughly check such services or apps before you agree.

Look In The Mirror

A very handy setting supplied by Facebook is the option to view yourself as others see you. This is very useful, as you can see exactly what other people see when they look at your profile. When you’re trying to edit your settings to ensure certain information is private, this allows you to double-check, making sure you only share what you want to share with others.

You’ll find this option by clicking the ellipsis button next to View Activity Log on your cover photo. Once you click it, your view will be switched to how everyone sees your profile. You can then reset back to you or view the profile as a specific person.

Lock Your Phone

You’d be amazed at how many people don’t use PIN or password protection on their mobile phones, even people who think nothing of leaving their phones on a table when they nip to the toilet in a busy café or bar. As Facebook is one of the single most used applications on mobile devices, it’s not hard or unheard of for someone to get hold of a phone and rifle through information. At the very least, you could have jokes played on you (we’ve all got that one friend).

To prevent this, always use security on your phone, and as an added measure, don’t use Facebook via your phone’s browser and use the app, with the option of auto-login disabled. This isn’t a measure most will like, as it’s just pain inconvenient having to log in each time, but if you’re very security conscious or this has happened to you before, it may be the better option for peace of mind.

Don’t Bite

If you’ve used a computer for any length of time you’ll probably be aware of phishing or the act of trying to fool people into divulging sensitive information with fake emails. Facebook users have also been targeted in this way, with emails supposedly from Facebook asking users to provide their usernames and passwords.

Facebook, like many other online services such as banking, will never ask for this, so don’t be fooled. Never supply your details to anyone, especially random emails, even if they look legitimate. If in doubt, always contact Facebook (or any other organisation that’s apparently requesting information) directly, using its own website. Never reply to emails like this or use contact information from them.

Tell Tales

In the playground and within criminal organisations so-called ‘tell tales’ or ‘rats’ are seen as a bad thing, but it’s often the best way to help yourself and others, especially when it comes to potential problems with social networking or other online problems.

If you’re affected by a problem or you see anything suspect when you’re on Facebook, always report it. Facebook contains plenty of links and options to do this, such as selecting image options, where you’ll find a report option, and the ability to report a whole account or person. There’s also an option under the Report a Problem section where you can inform Facebook of any abusive content.

These are all important, and if you know of any such problems, don’t feel bad for reporting it. No one will know, as reports are kept secret, and even if there’s a misunderstanding and you report something that isn’t actually a problem, you won’t be in trouble.

It goes without saying, of course, that you shouldn’t abuse this feature, and don’t use it to cause problems for people.

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