Identity Theft

The Survivor’s Guide to Social Media Privacy Changes

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There’s been a series of important changes to privacy settings at all the major social networks in the past week. Here’s how they impact you, and what settings you need to review with care.

Twitter

It’s now much easier for a stranger to send you a direct message, or DM, Twitter’s version of a private message. The bad news: Many scams and viruses are spread through direct message, so this would seem to open users up to more attacks. The good news: Twitter, by default, left well enough alone. If you do nothing, other Twitter users still will have to get you to follow them before they can DM you. Those who like the idea of being contacted in private by strangers — such as journalists — should consider taking advantage of the new option, but most other users should simply double check and make sure the option is unselected.

What to do

Go to the settings page on Twitter and make sure the box next to “Receive direct messages from any follower” is unchecked.

Noteworthy

If you check that box, expect more spam, and don’t click on any links sent to you that are unexpected. That means links sent by friends, too. Many Twitter users are infected when their friends’ infected accounts are used to send believable-enough sounding direct messages, such as “You are in this link!”

Google

The search engine behemoth is following in the footsteps of Facebook’s controversial “sponsored stories” feature and allowing advertisers to use members’ names and faces next to certain kinds of ads. If you don’t want this to occur, you have to take action. To learn more about what Google is doing, read the firm’s explanation.

What to do

Unless you want your name and face used in ads, visit Google’s Shared Endorsement page, scroll to the bottom, and uncheck the box that says “Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads.”

Noteworthy

If you haven’t signed up for any Google Plus services, you may not see an option to check/uncheck. Google is making it harder and harder to use its site and tools without signing up, however, so if you aren’t sure, check the shared endorsement page

Facebook

The social media network announced last week it was following through on a threat to remove a privacy option that allowed users to prevent strangers from finding their profile using the service. Facebook says the option was rendered moot by other changes that make all kinds of items, like status updates, more searchable. If you are a privacy-conscious user, it should unnerve you.

What to do

You can’t restore what Facebook has taken away. But you can do a few things to minimize the impact.

First: You can still block individual users from finding you, but you must do this proactively.

Second: Revisit the rest of your privacy settings to see exactly what a stranger would see if he or she found your page. Use Facebook’s “View As…” to do this. Even better — ask a real-world friend who is not a Facebook friend (yes, they do exist) to find you, and see what they can see. If you see something you don’t want to share, adjust your profile’s “basic info” settings.

Third: Make sure to stop search engines from linking to items on your Facebook page. Under privacy settings, and “Who can look me up?” — turn off the options available.

Noteworthy

If the idea of losing the ability to stop random strangers from finding your profile bothers you, try this step: Remove your face from your profile picture. Change it to something abstract, such as a landscape picture. That way, unless your name is very unique, a stranger who finds a link to your profile won’t know it’s you.

Image: iStock

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