Protect Your Online Privacy and Take the Battle to Facebook’s Turf

All of the recent explosive disclosures about the changes to Facebook‘s privacy policy–something that has been an ongoing and procedural erosion of our privacy (see here for a graphical representation of the changes) by acceptance of their terms of service and privacy policy changes–had begun to make me think strongly about quitting Facebook all together. It can be a time wasting website, and it can give you too much information about some folks who you don’t really want to know that much about. However, it allows you to reconnect with old friends, and more importantly, stay connected with professional colleagues. It is primarily for this latter reason that I have decided to stay on Facebook and take the fight to their turf. The reason that Facebook is so insanely popular is that it facilitates social networking and communication in a a very streamlined and generally snappy website. There are no other players on the near horizon that can do the things that Facebook does that I can switch to and bring all of my friends and colleagues with me. I have pitched my tent in the Facebook frontier, and I intend to fight for my tiny share of profile space and the inroads that I and my friends have made there. It is a good land with a lot of possibilities that I don’t want to give up on just yet. I know that we can use Facebook and protect ourselves, but we will have to be proactive and ever vigilant to the changes instituted by Facebook that may conflict with the way we want to use the service and the way Facebook may take advantage of us using their service. Also, I should note that I have no problem with Facebook making a buck off of my using their service, but I believe that I should not be made into a commodity rather than a potential consumer (via ads, add-ons, etc.). Give me respect as a person, and I will be happy to play ball. As it is now, Facebook sees me and my information as so much stuff to be bought and sold, so I am offering the following tactics (there’s some de Certeau for you guys in the know) to fight back against Facebook’s strategies.

  1. Suit up with an updated version of Firefox. Then, go to Preferences > Privacy > Uncheck all except Clear History when Firefox Closes. Click on Exceptions for Cookies and manually add the domains for the sites that you want to accept cookies from (Facebook might not be one of those sites you want to list).
  2. Yield a mighty sword: Install AdBlock Pro. Inside Firefox, go to Tools > Add-Ons > Search for AdBlock Pro and choose to install it. After installing and restarting Firefox, click on the ABP icon in your navigation bar and choose preferences. Click on Filters > Add Subscription > Choose EasyList to add, and then add Fanboy’s List. You will also want to manually add the following filters one-by-one:
    [Thanks to Andrew and pfc.joker’s comments on Lifehacker for these.]
  3. Store your gear when you’re not using it. When you’re not using Facebook, make sure that you logout. This is probably a generally good rule of thumb when it comes to other sites accessing cookies saved by your web browser.
  4. Secure your stable door. This is where you adjust your Facebook privacy settings. First, go to Account > Privacy Settings. Here, you need to go through each page and adjust the settings. Personal Information and Posts > Set to Friends Only for all. Contact Information > Friends Only (you can allow Everyone to add you as a friend or contact you, but hide your email addresses by setting to Only Me). Friends, Tags, and Connections > Friends Only. Search > Uncheck Allow Public Search. Applications and Websites > What Friends Can Share > Uncheck All. Applications and Websites > Instant Personalization > Uncheck Allow.
  5. Clean up your stable. This is where you cut the new “Connections” that enable the flow of information between you and your friends to companies that Facebook sells your info to. Navigate to your Profile > Info. You have to leave your basic info, but you want to remove all of your interests, likes, education, work info, etc. You may also want to go into your photos and profile pictures and delete anything that you don’t want circulated (this is just good sense). You can use your bio to include the parts about you that you want people to know about. I only include SFRA and IAFA in my Likes and Interests, because these are professional affiliations that I use Facebook for.
  6. Ride off on a new adventure. If you’re really fed up with Facebook, you can create a new account and reconnect with your friends. There is a procedure to follow for this that you can find on Lifehacker here. They also have a nice set of 10 privacy tweaks that will generally improve your privacy online here.
  7. There be dragons in every cave and a troll under every bridge. The important thing to remember is that for every new and creative way of protecting our information and online identity from exploitation, there are corporations out there looking for equally inventive ways to make a buck on the information that we make freely available. Even our browsing habits can be tracked according to the way we configure our web browser (read about a project by the EFF regarding this on Slashdot here). You have to educate yourself about how your software works, and how you can use it to be prepared for unexpected onslaughts against your privacy. Check in on the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Read Lifehacker is good (even though its part of Gawker), and has some good info along with other wonderful things.
  8. Leave your own tips and favorite electronic privacy links in the comments, and let’s let Facebook know how we feel about their new policies before more of our online rights are eroded by big business.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.