April 10, 2018

Facebook privacy settings: How to make your account more secure

Gary Warner, cybersecurity expert and director of Research in Computer Forensics, offers tips on which Facebook settings to pay close attention to.

Written by: Tiffany Westry

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Social media giant Facebook is gradually making changes to the design of its privacy settings page in order to make it easier for users to see what information is accessible through their account and how it is being used.

Gary Warner, director of Research in Computer Forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, offers tips on which settings to pay close attention to and how to find them, and identifies best practices to better secure your personal information when using Facebook.   

Warner says, when it comes to Facebook, users often think going to the privacy tab in the settings menu to make adjustments is enough.

“It turns out that those settings are primarily for the more visible things that you would like to share on Facebook, such as your location, photos, and whether your posts are public or private,” Warner said. “There is another section of settings that deals with apps you have installed that know about your Facebook account.”

app settingClick to enlargeApps, games and websites

With years of use, it is likely that you have given permission to various apps, websites and games to interact with your Facebook account. When you create an account for an app or game using Facebook, you give it permission to share your activity or personal information.

“For example, I log into Amazon with my Facebook account,” Warner said. “I like it when my Facebook friends are notified about the reviews I read on Amazon; but I do not have to let Amazon have access to all my likes, history and all the things I have said on Facebook. The default is that it does have this access. These settings can be adjusted on an app-by-app basis.”

Do an audit of which apps you have given permission to interact with your Facebook account.

On a desktop or laptop computer, click the downward-facing arrow in the upper-right corner of your screen. The arrow is located next to a small circle with a question mark inside of it. After clicking on the arrow, click “Settings” and a new page will appear. Select the “Apps and Websites” tab located in the column of options on the left side of the page. If you log into any websites, games or apps using your Facebook account, they will appear on this page. You can do this on a mobile device as well, but the process is much more streamlined using a computer.

Each app, website or game will have its own separate settings that can be accessed by clicking on the small gray pencil located to the right of each icon. You can also choose to remove the app or website by checking the small white box located to the right of the icon and clicking “Remove.”

Ads

Warner says the other section in the settings menu that reveals a lot about what advertisers know about you is the “Ads” section, which is located below “Apps and Websites.”

“When you look through this section, it helps you understand why you are seeing certain ads,” Warner said. “This section shows you what Facebook is telling advertisers you are interested in, which has a lot to do with what kinds of ads you get. If you see something in this section that you do not agree with, select remove and Facebook will stop telling advertisers that you are interested in whatever it is.”

fb quizQuizzes and surveys

Taking quizzes and surveys online can be risky. Millions of people love to take and share them, which makes them ideal tools for scammers. Quizzes and surveys found on Facebook should be looked at with caution.

In order to participate, users typically have to agree to allow the creators of the quiz to access their Facebook data. Often the quiz will not work without these permissions. By taking the quiz or survey, you could be allowing a person or company you know nothing about to access your name, profile picture, age, sex, birthday, hometown, current city, IP address, your entire friend list, photos and everything you’ve ever liked on the site. Oftentimes, clicking “take quiz” leads you to another website or other links appear. These links which could contain a virus or be part of a phishing scam.

The safest option is to avoid them. If you want to participate, make sure the quiz was created by a reputable website or company that you are familiar with, be cautious of quizzes that ask you to sign in or enter your email address, keep your privacy settings in check, and do not list anything that is not absolutely necessary in your profile.

Warner also recommends taking advantage of the option to add an extra layer of security to your account by using two-factor authentication to log in. This prevents a stranger from guessing or stealing your password in order to access your account. Two-factor authentication requires you to log in with a code from your phone and your password. This option can be found in the “Security and Login” tab in the settings menu.