August 14, 2010

Account segregation: protecting your Facebook privacy

Here's a little dirty secret.

Facebook is making it easier to stalk people more than ever.

How, you might ask? Because they recently changed it so that email addresses are public to everyone. If you know one's email address, and it's attached to their Facebook account, you can find them, no matter what the privacy is. Even if the email is set to "Friends Only" or "Only Me," other people can and will find it. This is not a bug. I complained about it to the Facebook team and they said it was a feature. I've tested it with other people and I can still find them even when their email is set to "Only Me."

Why is this a problem?

Well, what if you use the same email for your Internet life and your real life? I just found someone on the GameFAQs message boards. I now know his full name and his general location. I can now plug that name into paid databases and such to find even more information. I've never bothered to find out because I don't want to pay, but money is the only thing stopping one from knowing more about this person.

Solution: I use two email accounts, one for the Internet, the other for real life. I've attached my Facebook account to my real life email, so that people who actually know me in real life can find me, but those who only know me on the Internet cannot.

What about your school email? I used mine to register for Facebook and then never used it again. But it's still linked to my account. So an employer who wants to find me need only to do two things. One, go to the CSULB Search website and type in my name. I'm the only Michael Yee at CSULB.

There I am.

Now, copy that email address, and look...

I'm the only hit. You've found me. This doesn't do much, because I've secured my profile completely, but there are a surprisingly large number of people whose information is visible to everyone or mutual friends. And remember, it only takes one mutual friend to find our your information. Are you friends with organizations or newspapers? That could be their ticket a stranger finding more information about you if you set your profile to "Friends of Friends."

Basically, I just can't slip away and be anonymous in the hundreds of Michael Yees. I'm easily findable.

Solution Remove your school email from Account Settings if you don't want stalkers, employers, or school authorities being able to find your profile within seconds.

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