Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

With Facebook's popularity have come concerns about safety and security. I'll review a couple of things to check and keep in mind as you use Facebook.

Facebook has become an incredibly popular social media site with people connecting more than ever. Along with Facebook's features come concerns about privacy and online safety.

In this video from an Ask Leo! webinar, I'll discuss some of the things to watch for, some of the things to check, and just some common sense rules to keep in mind when using any social media service.

View in HD (1280x720)


'How can I use Facebook safely.'

Boy, there's a great question. That's something that I've actually considered spending a lot more time on in the form of articles. The problem that I have in doing that is that about the time I decide here's how to use Facebook safely, Facebook goes in and changes all of their privacy settings and everything that I would have recommended has gone by the wayside and no longer applies.

So, I'm not going to give a detailed response to this one because it is way more complex than just a simple answer can give you.

I will say a couple of things: one, definitely spend some time looking at Facebook's privacy options. Let's see; let's go have a look at my Facebook account. I don't think there's anything scary here. So here's Facebook.

Where you want to be spending some time is over here at the Privacy Settings. You really want to be careful about how things get shared. It is very easy for things to be shared more publicly than you think. In other words, the biggest mistake that people make is thinking that sharing only with Friends keeps things private. It does not. Friends, in turn, can reshare what you have shared and they can then share it publicly. That is one of the ways that mistakes happen.

So without getting into all of the specific settings because there's a bunch as you can see. How you connect and all of a sudden and you've got a long list of what people can see and who can do what; whether you can be tagged or your are blocked. There's a bunch of stuff there; spend a few minutes with that and go through those things and make sure you understand them and that they are not more permissive than you would want them to be.

I will say, and I have to quote, and I'll actually have to mangle the quote because it wasn't 'PG' when he said it, my friend and tech pundit Chris Pirillo posted some time ago, 'If there's stuff you don't want people to see, don't post it online.'

It's actually very simple.

It is simply much too easy for information posted online to be shared with or make it outside the circle you think you've shared it with. The safest thing to do is of course - don't.

The other piece of advice I will give you in respect to Facebook is to avoid apps - avoid them. Every time an app comes up it asks me for permission to post on my wall or to see my friends or do any of those kinds of things, I almost immediately turn them off because I just don't have the time to vet every single app that's out there. And each one is a potential place for leakage, data leakage, or inadvertently having things happen that you don't want to have happen.

I actually follow a couple of interesting folks. Malwarebytes has a page and I recommend them. Let me go over to the Ask Leo! page because I would recommend also Hoax-Slayer and Sophos. Both of those as being pages you want to favorite or 'Like', excuse me, or visit from time to time.

The reason I point those out specifically is because those two, among others I'm sure, do a very good job of giving up-to-date information about the latest hoaxes and there are a ton of hoaxes on Facebook.

If you don't choose to follow these, then by all means, remember the old adage 'If it's too good to be true, then it's probably not true.' But there just a bunch of hoaxes running around all the time. Typically, the hoax turns out to be fake, they promise something they don't deliver, but along the way, they try to gather information about you; they try and get you to fill out some surveys, they try to do all sorts of random stuff that's not worth it.

If you want to, I would recommend going over to those two pages and liking them.

'It's not about being seen, it's about being tracked.'

It depends about your level of paranoia. Just using Facebook allows Facebook to see know what you're doing; there's no way around that. The websites that you use, you are exposing to them your information, your posts, everything you do with them. If you don't want Facebook to track you; if you don't want Facebook to have access to that information, don't use Facebook.

When it goes beyond Facebook, that basically, I reiterate my recommendation to avoid giving apps more permission than you are really comfortable giving to those apps. I don't want Farmville or Mafia Wars, I don't want them to be able to paste on my wall - I just don't. I don't want to clutter people who are following me, I don't want them to have to see this stuff that's coming along because I happen to do something in an application.

So that's the kind of stuff that I typically recommend that people avoid.

'Is the same applied to Twitter?'

Yes and no.

With Twitter, you don't have quite the same amount of app integration so you're not like giving a bunch of information to third parties, but on the other hand, everything you post on Twitter is public - period. You have, with the exception of direct messages, which are available only between people who have followed each other, I believe, with the exception of that, everything you post on Twitter is completely public and you will find that it shows up in Google search results from time-to-time, which is also kind of scary.

So that brings us back to the original adage I just quoted from Chris Pirillo that basically said if you don't want people to see what you are doing, don't post it online.

Article C5076 - February 10, 2012 « »

Share this article with your friends:

Share this article on Facebook Tweet this article Email a link to this article
Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Teresa Matthews
February 14, 2012 9:04 AM

I've sent questions to Internet Explorer and Microsoft, with no answers. Maybe you can help me. I cannot view videos on FB at all. When I do download the video all I get is a blank white box. I have Adobe Flash Player, and it always pops up saying I need to install the new version of flash player , which I have already done. I have flash player 11, and still cannot view my videos. what can I do?

February 14, 2012 10:00 AM

@Teresa: A good place for such questions is the Windows Secrets Lounge ( Sign up, then post your question to the IE Lounge. Good luck.

February 14, 2012 10:23 AM

I use some of the apps on Facebook, there is a few trust worthy apps that will only post what you tell it to post. On the other hand there is a lot of rouge/scam apps that will post stuff without you're consent, also you can get malware/rouge browser addon from them.

Privacy on Facebook is only as good as you're setting and friends settings. Say you have set you're privacy setting to friends only, you are only sharing with friends unless one of you're friends has theirs set to public or friends of friends, in this case anything you post on that friends wall is shared with everyone of their friends.

In short you're Privacy is only as strong as you're weakest friend. Only one way to be 100% private on facebook is to set you're privacy settings to only me that way nothing is shared with anyone except maybe the Facebook Devs.

Now for keeping up with scams I like Hoax-Slayer and Sophos, Another good one is Facecrooks, they keep on top of the scams, hoaxes and rouge malware infested junk on facebook. I check all 3 of these daily.

February 14, 2012 11:10 AM

You may want to try clearing your cache, or simply using another browser. Sometimes browsers will create updates that forget some important function.
Clear your browser cache

Glenn P.
February 14, 2012 5:33 PM

Leo asked, "How do I use Facebook safely?"

Heck, I can answer that in two words:

          "You don't."

And that's the reason why I don't use Facebook. (Myspace or Google+ either, for that matter.)

Case Closed!           :)

June 22, 2012 1:14 PM

It is possible to set your Twitter account to private and choose your followers so it's not available for public viewing, however retweets of anything you say are possible.

Comments on this entry are closed.

If you have a question, start by using the search box up at the top of the page - there's a very good chance that your question has already been answered on Ask Leo!.

If you don't find your answer, head out to to ask your question.