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Facebook is continuing to grow and has passed the 300 million user mark. Every 100 million extra have added faster. The first 100 million obviously took years, but the second 100 million took eight months and the third 100 million took about 5 months.
Facebook attracts all kinds of people and connects people from all over the world. From your old high-school friends to your colleagues or even your parents (unfortunately).
Now, as any Windows user can tell you, with size and high market share come risks and attention from people with bad intentions.
So what are the main Facebook risks you need to worry about while staying connected to your friends or growing your crops?
Facebook Risk #1: Remember Who Your Visitors Are
When you receive friend requests often, it might be tempting to accept them all. You might be thinking the more the merrier or you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but you should really remember who you have friended over time.
There are multiple examples of people who have said too much on Facebook and have got in trouble for it. If you call in sick for work or school make sure you haven’t posted photos from the boozefest of the night before, or the citytrip you’re making today.
Also don’t forget that one of the first things employers do when looking at job applicants is Google them and trying to find them on Facebook.
The way I see it you have to make a choice between writing everything you want on your profile while restricting the people you allow very much and choosing your words and photos very carefully and allowing everyone.
For more information on how to safeguard your Facebook privacy read this article by Mahendra. He explains things like lists, photo privacy and application use. When you do friend your boss, co-worker or anyone else with whom you don’t want to share everything with read this article by Tim.
Facebook Risk #2: Protect Your Private Information
That sounds pretty straightforward right? Keep your private information to yourself because it’s private. You wouldn’t give your credit card number or street address to any stranger in the street so you have even less reason to give it to any stranger on Facebook. You should also be careful because other than your own private information you can give individuals or applications the possibility to access the information of your private friends and even talk to your friends in your name.
Because of this it is important to mind what applications you use. I say use and not authorize because every application you use, you also authorize.
You can keep an eye on which applications you have authorized by going to “Settings” and clicking “Application Settings“. Then, on the “Show” dropdown menu select “Authorized” and you’ll see the applications that can access your data and are allowed to post and view information from your contacts.
You can also completely remove applications here or even block them from contacting you, so you’ll never get superpoked again. It’s also wise to have a look at your own stream now and then, just click on your name at the top of the page. It may be a bit narcissistic but just view it as taking a look in the mirror to see what you’re presenting to other people.
You can control which friends or other contacts can see what information when you go to the “Setting > Privacy Settings“. There you can also have a look at your profile the way other people see it. Beware that networks are usually authorized, but can be very large. Many people are, for instance, members of the network of their city or country which can be millions of people. When you go to “News Feed and Wall” you can also deauthorize Facebook to show your name to your friends in social ads. This can happen when you’re a fan of a page. It is not true that Facebook uses your photos in ads. Read more on the Facebook blog.
Facebook Risk #3: Treat Strangers As Strangers
You don’t know a person right away when you meet them in real life, but online it is even more difficult to get a feeling of who you’re dealing with. Some people make a sport out of exaggerating or making up their life or persona. Even worse, some people make it their business.
People only need a little of your personal information to take over your identity and apply for store cards or even commit crimes in your name. Social engineering, the process of tricking people into giving information has always been around, but is especially useful on Facebook. Ryan has written an excellent and controversial post on how to trick people on Facebook in giving up their data. It might help you protect against these kinds of attempts.
Some people use Facebook precisely to meet strangers, in the form of dating. While this can of course be fun you should treat strangers as strangers. Even when you’ve known people for over months online and connect spiritually, you still don’t know much about them.
Pictures also don’t prove much. Never send money to people asking for it. Don’t give out your home address. If you want to meet in real life just meet in a public place with lots of people where you can leave within five minutes if you smell something fishy or the date is just disappointing. It’s OK to check some of the claims a person makes, like by calling the company he or she works for to ask if that’s true.
Facebook Risk #4: Internet Addiction
It may become increasingly attractive to wander around in the virtual world. This of course counts for anything online that’s entertaining, but Facebook lends itself very well to sucking you in and keeping you there for hours on end. There are so many things to do, chatting with friends, looking at photos or posting your own, playing a game or searching for old classmates.
It’s not good when this starts to become a large part of your life and gets in the way of other things that need to happen or activities that are fun like hanging out with friends in real life. Just try to keep an eye on the time you’re spending there and take a break now and then. You can use Facebook as an reward after useful things are done. Remove a game that is taking up too much time or maybe take an entire break from Facebook for a week or so. The harder that is, the bigger your problem.
It might look as if I condone the use of Facebook and try to say that behind every avatar there’s some pervert that’s trying to scam you out of your money. This is of course not the case and you should use Facebook as it’s intended; hanging out with friends and having some fun. It’s just that online relationships are different from relationships in real life and when love or money are involved strange things may happen.