When Tejas Pande, a 23-year-old Bangalore-based information technology professional, heard about a workshop called Facebook Resistances at the Centre for Internet and Society ( www.cis-india.org ) in the city, he signed up without thinking twice. “I spend almost 10 hours every day logged in to my Facebook account. Its fixed rituals were getting to me. So I wanted to find out how I can take more control of my account and make it more personal.”
The workshop, which was conducted by Marc Stumpel, a new media researcher and privacy advocate from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, had the same concerns. Stumpel’s workshop, which has travelled across the world from Barcelona and Berlin to Bangalore, is a research initiative that looks at changing the rules and functionality of Facebook. “We want to change your experience of the site and make it more personal,” he says, adding, “We also want you to safeguard your privacy in the Facebook world.” All this, he says, is possible through add-ons to your Internet browser. “People just need to know what these cracks are.”
With more than 600 million active users, Facebook has become prone to attacks from hackers. Problems such as identity theft and malicious bot messages or status update worms are becoming common. Other than that, privacy concerns which have wracked Facebook since its inception continue to be controversial despite the “controls” it now offers.
Privacy rules: There are simple ways to safeguard your privacy on Facebook.
The main reason for this is that the social networking mammoth keeps on pushing new features or changes constantly and rapidly, even before we can understand the ones that already exist. “Most often we don’t get a chance to opt in to new features, and can only opt out if they get our attention,”explains Stumpel. This leads to a loss of control over personal data and what Facebook can do with it.
To prevent this, it’s necessary to keep going back to those account settings and make full use of whatever control Facebook offers at any point. Here are some of the latest ways you can protect your online identity.
Log out of multiple sessions
How many times have you logged into Facebook from an Internet café or a friend’s mobile phone and forgotten to log out? Every time you do that, even though you close the browsing window or application at the end, Facebook keeps your session open, making you vulnerable to mischief. Now you can log into your account and see a list of active sessions with their details, which include the login time, device name, the approximate location of the login based on IP address, and browser and operating system. If some of them are unauthorized or you are unaware of these activities, shut them immediately and reset your password.
Take control now: In your Facebook account, go to Account > Account Settings > Account Security > Account Activity > Also Active. Facebook lists all your active, open browsers in the Also Active list. Click on End Activity on the unwanted ones. You can also take control of which gadgets you log on from with the Login Approvals feature that comes under Account Security. This feature lets you put a code alert, which can then be SMSed to your mobile phone as soon as you log in from an unrecognized computer. This will alert you in case there’s been a login from a source you don’t know about.
Avoid the unwanted photo tag
Did a friend just put your drunk as hell photograph, wearing a “I hate my boss” T-shirt and making an obscene gesture, online? And did your boss and wife see it and blast you for irresponsibility? Other than the embarrassment, you may get into trouble at home or at work because of friends tagging inane photographs they clicked somewhere you don’t remember.If it’s not photographs, it’s minor irritants such as social or festive messages that you unexpectedly get tagged in. Avoid such irritants with a simple click.
Take control now: Go to Account > Privacy Settings > Sharing on Facebook. Click on ‘Customize settings’. In the page that pops up, choose in each option who can see and comment on things you share, things on your Wall and things you’re tagged in.
Secure your account
Hacking is increasingly a problem on Facebook. The reason is that on most of the networks, Facebook (unlike email clients) works on an unsecured connection (http) and not a secure one (https). Now the social networking site gives you an option to choose a secure site for logging and browsing. You can also choose one-time passwords when logging into Facebook from a public connection.
Take control now: Go to Account > Account Settings> Account Security > Secure Browsing. Tick on Browse Facebook on a Secure Connection (https) whenever possible. In case you are using a public computer, take the option of Facebook One-time Passwords. Text “OTP” to 32665 on your mobile phone and you will get a new one-time password which expires within 20 minutes.
Stop Facebook from haunting you online
Baffled when your Facebook profile image pops up every time you are reading a news site or a travel website online asking you to “Like” a news or review since another friend from Facebook does? Or surprised when you are browsing a travel website and your friends’ photographs pop up suddenly, saying they have been there and “Recommend” a hotel or site? Facebook has partnered with some websites to, as it delicately puts it, “provide you with great, personalized experiences the moment you arrive, such as immediately playing the music you like or displaying friends’ reviews”. Basically if you are logged in to Facebook, these sites can take information from your account and display it and also tell you which of your friends have visited that particular city earlier. If you wish to stop Facebook from haunting you everywhere you go online on your browser, act now.
Take control now: To block a third party, go to Account > Privacy Settings > Apps and Websites> Instant Personalization. Deselect Enable Instant Personalization to stop getting these subtle suggestions from Facebook.
Cut off the ads
A Facebook friend, Mr-I-Like-Everything, “Likes” yet another page and it pops up as a suggestion on the right side of your profile. If you have been on Facebook long enough, chances are one of the “Sponsored” pages has been shoved under your nose at least once. These little ad blurbs which keep popping up on the right-hand side corner, or underneath your apps on the left side of your page, are a mix of advertisements as well as Facebook’s way of further profiling you. Facebook calls them “Suggestions” that add to your social personality, but they are just ads. The good news is that you can now block these permanently.
Customize your Facebook page
Bored to death with the classic Facebook blue and white? There’s help at hand to see your Facebook page in a new, stylized version.
Take control now: Download and install an add-on called Stylish in Mozilla Firefox. Then go to Userstyles.org and choose a theme you want to install. Click on Load Into Stylish. Once the theme is successfully loaded, choose it from a small icon on the right corner and activate the theme. Refresh and enjoy the new look.
Block unwanted applications
How does an application you haven’t given access to know your birth date? The answer is your friends. Even though your settings might be sealed and set, you are vulnerable if your friends don’t care who’s accessing their information—and most of them don’t. Applications on Facebook can harvest not only a person’s birth of date or city of residence, but also that of their friends. As Facebook writes, the applications “may access any information you have made visible to Everyone as well as your publicly available information”. Publicly available information “includes your Name, Profile Picture, Gender, Current City, Networks, Friend List, and Pages”. Facebook offers a way for you to control what your friends can share about you with these applications. It’s a well-hidden section under Accounts called Facebook Ads.
Take control now: To check which applications are using what from your profile, go to Account > Privacy Settings > Apps and Websites. Block any of the apps you haven’t used for a couple of months and don’t remember when you gave access to. Cut down the information accessible to other applications through your friends by unmarking under “Info accessible through your friends”. If you don’t want the “suggestions” that Facebook makes about the pages that your friends “Like”, go to Account > Account Settings > Facebook Ads. Choose “No one” for both “Ads shown by third Parties” as well as “Ads and friends”.
Remove yourself from Facebook & Google Search
Now you can avoid unwanted attention from generic Google and Facebook name searches with a simple privacy setting to turn off your public visibility.
Take control now: Go to Account > Privacy Settings > Connecting on Facebook. Click on View Settings and under it, and in the options under “Search for you on Facebook”, select Friends or Friends of Friends.
Add a dislike button
Tired of no option but to “Like” comments, links and silly photos on Facebook? Now you can install a Dislike button to show your hatred of everything inane that people put on your wall.
Take control now: The Dislike button comes with an add-on called Facebook Dislike 1.2.3 by Thomas Moquet. It works on both Google Chrome and Firefox. Remember that you are the only one who will see that button. For your friends to see what you dislike, they need to install it too.
Illustration by Raajan/Mint
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