TECH BITES: A victory for privacy? Maybe, but you should still be careful on social media

By Kevin Graham

Employers and schools are now no longer allowed to ask for your social media passwords during the application process under a new law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Some will see this as a big victory for privacy, but for various reasons I don’t think anything is really changing. The fact of the matter is we live in an era where a vast amount of information is available on all of us simply through a Google search.

Because of this, I would say my best advice for anyone wishing to protect themselves on the Internet is to assume everything you post online is public. This is not necessarily the desired situation, but I would argue that it’s reality.

That being said, there are some steps you can take to make sure your social network posts are treated with discretion. The following is a rundown of privacy options and how to get to them for four leading social networks.

Before I get started, I should also mention that you should carefully guard your account information. In many cases, it doesn’t take much more than your email address for someone to gain access to your account.

Try to check the settings semi-regularly. Feature sets on websites are changing all the time.

Facebook

Facebook seems to be a perennial symbol used by privacy advocates to bemoan everything that is wrong with the Internet age. The brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg actually has some really robust privacy controls if you know where to look.

Facebook recently updated its interface and added a small icon with a lock next to your name when you login. This is the new privacy menu that has quick settings for who can see your posts, who can contact you and the ability to block people with whom you don’t want to interact.

In addition to the global postings setting, you can also change who can see the post on an individual basis. This is useful if you normally post to a full group of your friends but you only want your best friend to see your dinner invite.

Facebook also is now requiring people that aren’t friends with a user pay a dollar to send them a message. If they choose not to pay, the message will still be sent but it will appear in the portion of the user’s inbox labeled “other.”

Sure it’s not total privacy, but at least strangers will have to put in a credit card number to guarantee your eyeballs.

Twitter

By default, your tweets are public. In order to change this, click the gear icon next to the search bar and click settings. If you scroll down the page, there is a checkbox to “protect my tweets.” Turning this on will allow you to manually approve your followers.

I would also recommend turning on the setting that requires personal information to change your password. This will at least require someone to know your email address or phone number before they can freeze you out of your account. You can register your cell phone number with Twitter by clicking the mobile section of the settings and following the directions.

Foursquare

Foursquare lets you see where people you follow have checked in. The location information options give you the chance say whether you want to be included in a crowd of people attending an event (e.g. “Kevin checked in at Bon Jovi at The Palace.”) You can also decide whether you want to be eligible for mayorships. (The person who most often checks into a venue is the mayor of that location.) You can also share your check-ins with businesses that may reward frequent customers.

A final option is one which allows you to control whether friends can post that they checked in with you on other social networks.

Tumblr 

You access these settings by clicking the gears icon at the top of your homepage. From here, click your blog name to get to its settings.

Once you’ve done that, the most important settings are in the middle of the page. You will find controls for who can submit posts, who can reply and who can ask questions on your blog.

Internet privacy can be a bit of a confusing mess, but I hope this helps.