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Why Facebook's privacy settings don't always work

Why Facebook's privacy settings don't always work

By Paul Nelson | Posted - Jan. 28, 2011 at 6:00 a.m.

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Is there any real way to hide all of the things you post on Facebook to keep your boss or family from seeing what might become embarrassing? Tech bloggers say you can try, but you really shouldn't.

Let's list the reasons why someone would want to hide their Facebook comments, status updates or pictures from certain people.

  • You want to complain about your job, or more specifically, your boss. But your boss wanted to become your "friend" and you felt uncomfortable declining. (A Connecticut woman is currently in the process of suing her former employer after being fired for comments she made about her boss.)
  • You want to post political statements and opinions. But some of your real life friends may take offense to what you say.
  • You want to show the pictures of you going out to party with your buddies. But your parents have ruined Facebook by joining it, and they would give you a lot of grief if they saw how reckless you were that night.

Well, there are ways you can keep those specific people from seeing what you want to hide.

Most everything you post can be controlled through the privacy settings section of your Facebook account. On the upper right side of the screen, there's a drop down menu that can take you to it.

Here, you can maintain who sees your contact information, religion, relationship status, pictures, videos and pretty much everything else. There, you can separate your "friends" into different groups, and then allow some groups to see your information, while others can't.

"For status updates, there is a little lock icon next to the status update box. If you click on that lock button, you can change the privacy settings," says Jesse Stay, co-author of "I'm on Facebook, Now What?"

Stay says there really is no fool-proof way to hide the embarrassing stuff you say or show. He experimented once to see if he could post something on his status update without his wife finding out.

"I posted it and I excluded my wife from the updates," he said. "Well, she ended up being able to figure out that I had posted it because I have friends that talk about it and laugh with each other."

Stay says people will talk, guaranteed. Even people who you consider to be close friends will talk about you when you're not there.

Apart from the grapevine, there is the "share" button. Even if you arrange your privacy settings to keep someone from seeing your photos or videos, the friends you do allow to see them can share them with everyone they know. Eventually, the person you wanted to never see your photos can end up having access to them.

You can always delete your comments and status updates if they end up sounding bad. But, some people allow "everyone" to see the comments posted on their Facebook page.

"If it's public like that, then Google can cache that information. So, people can still go in, even if you've deleted it and, within a short amount of time afterward, potentially get access to that," Stay said.

Stay says there are other websites designed to repost some of the silly, dumb and outrageous things posted to Facebook. One site, called Failbook, has posted screen shots of embarrassing conversations between people commenting on Facebook. (Warning: Content on that site isn't exactly PG.)

Openbook lets people search for specific words written in status updates and you may be surprised how people admit to infidelity and feuds.

Not only that, but Stay says arranging the privacy settings may be trickier than some people think.

"You never know. You could make a mistake and maybe you didn't the privacy setting you wanted on Facebook," he said.

So, the old advice stays the best. Don't post items that may come back to haunt you.


Paul Nelson


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