If last month's notorious Instagram privacy brouhaha should have taught us anything, it was this: People who subscribe to free social media services aren't the customers. They're the products.
Social media companies such as Instagram, and its parent, Facebook (FB), have to make their money somewhere -- and their strategy often involves collecting as much user data as possible so they can provide the targeted advertising that businesses covet. In effect, they sell businesses access to you.
To succeed, these companies must maintain a critical mass of users, which in turn requires them to offer user settings that meet the privacy standards held by most target users. Still, while Facebook users can chose their settings to maintain a measure of privacy, these options only benefit those who periodically review the site's policies, and adjust their privacy settings to suit themselves.
With that in mind, let's take a look at three Facebook privacy features you should know about, as well as tips for adjusting your settings to retain as much privacy as possible.
1. "Like" Discreetly: How to Stop Companies from Using You to Spread Ads
Suppose you "like" Target (TGT) on Facebook. Now that the company has your endorsement, it can bolster advertisements posted on your friends' Facebook pages by pairing them with the announcement that you "like" Target. This personal endorsement is one of the best ways to get your friends to buy there.
If you don't want businesses to use your endorsements when advertising to friends, edit your social ads setting:
Navigate to "Privacy Settings," found by clicking on the gear icon in the top right corner of your Facebook page
Click on "Ads," found in the left-hand column of the privacy settings page.
Click the edit link next to "Ads & Friends."
At the bottom of the page, click on the box located next to the words "Pair my social actions with ads for," select "No One," and save your changes.
2. Tag! You're It: How to Prevent Friends from Oversharing About You
Suppose a Facebook friend posts an embarrassing photo of you and links it to your profile by tagging you in it. While you can decide whether that photo appears in your timeline, this embarrassing photo is now viewable to all of your Facebook friends, the friends of the person who posted it, and the friends of everyone else tagged in the photo through the News Feed and search function.
If you're not happy with what your "friends" are linking to your profile, your options are limited. In such cases, Facebook recommends that you "reach out" to your friends and ask them not to tag you. If that doesn't work, Facebook provides you with the option of blocking problematic individuals to prevent them from tagging you in the future.
3. Just a Suggestion: Turn Off Facebook "Suggestions"
Not only does Facebook allow your friends to tag you in embarrassing photos, they sometimes also recommend that they do so through the "tag suggestion" feature. This feature detects photos that look like you and uses this information to generate suggestions about which photos your friends should tag you in.
You can disable this feature by clicking on the "Timeline and Tagging" link found in the left-hand column of the privacy settings page. Near the bottom of the page, you can click on the edit button next to the question, "Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?" and select "No One."
Monitor Your Account
If you're not sure whether you can trust your Facebook friends to avoid oversharing, closely monitor your account so you can catch and respond to problematic friend activity early.
One monitoring strategy includes adjusting your notification settings so you receive a text message whenever your friends tag you in a photo or post something on your wall. To do this, click on the "Notifications" link found in the left-hand column of the privacy settings page. Once there, you can decide what notifications you get and how you're notified, and edit accordingly.
The bottom line is that users should exercise common sense. It's important to remember that once your information is out there -- especially in the digital world -- it's hard to control where it goes. The safest route is to avoid posting any information that you're uncomfortable making public, and to only "friend" people you can trust to respect your boundaries. Barring that, users would do well to select conservative privacy settings and keep a close eye on their accounts.
Motley Fool Contributor M. Joy Hayes is the Principal at ethics consulting firm Courageous Ethics. Joy has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook.
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