Facebook & Google Ads Invade: How To Take Back Your Privacy

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fb-embedPhoto: via Facebook.
Online privacy took a hit this past week when both Google and Facebook announced policy changes that promote further user visibility — in essence, the dream of being a social stealth online is a fast-fading one. Facebook announced that in December users will no longer be able to control if they are searchable (read: everyone will be able find you, like it or not). The company claims only a few percent of users opted to be non-searchable, but we're going to surmise that those millions of people won't be thrilled when forced out from under their rock. Though, Facebook will at least be notifying them first. How nice!

For its part, Google announced that Google+ users may have their image used in "shared endorsement" advertisements. If you've +1ed a restaurant, commented in the Play store, or generally left a consumer trail as a Google user, you're a prime target for inclusion. This isn't too different from the ongoing dilemma on whether Facebook has the right to use your likeness in ads or not (it continues to insist it does.) Then, of course, there's Instagram surreptitiously making its way toward its future ad-fueled experience; you may have noticed it has removed the "autoplay" option for videos on iOS platforms.

The new reality is that online privacy is becoming more of an à la carte ordeal. This individualization of features may be more customizable, but to paraphrase Biggie: mo' features, mo' problems. You need to stay on top of your game here. As Professor Moody once said, "Constant vigilance!" To help you out, we have some refreshers to keep you primed for privacy.

Google:
Fortunately, Google has made it supremely simple to opt out of its impending ad campaigns. Go to this link on Google and scroll down to where it says: "Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads," uncheck, then save. That's it! You're safe. For now.

Facebook:
- Friends of friends = strangers. Be really careful about that "friends of friends" visibility option. Honestly, we can't think of an incidence when the optimal setting would entail sharing your content with people connected to you only by virtue of mutual friends. It's a weird gray zone and huge slippery slope that may invite a few thousand more prying eyes than you anticipate. As far as we're concerned, doing so is the same as going full-on public (which is fine, as long as you're fully aware of the risks of that level of visibility).

- Preview your profile. Use the "view as" tab often. You can do this by clicking on the "gear" tab on your profile and scrolling down. You can see just how much you're revealing to the general Facebook public or to a specific person. With Facebook's ever-evolving privacy settings, you just never know what tidbits have gone public by "default." Previewing your profile is one of the most decisive ways you can stay on top of this.

- Choose your level of contact. You may not be able to hide from search anymore, but you can somewhat control who can add you or message you (though, admittedly, this function has also become increasingly limited). With "basic" filtering, friends of friends/"people you may know" can message you, while "strict" filtering keeps it within the friends' circle. You can also choose to limit friend requests to "friends of friends" (you used to be able to opt out of requests altogether, but no longer).

- Watch out for public photos. You may be tagged in any pic, but you can simply untag yourself. Use this power well.

- Timeline approval is your friend. If you're a control freak, there's no way you don't already use this tool judiciously. But, if you're a bit more lackadaisical, you may still want to consider switching it on, so that all mentions and tags of you have to get your approval before appearing on your timeline at all.

- Avoid accidentally landing your own ad campaign. You probably have third-party apps linked to your Facebook without realizing it, and this only further entrenches you in the grid. Some shady apps have come under fire for placing user images in their ads and have been banned from Facebook, but new ones can always spring up. Before installing any new applications, carefully read the fine print and think about what it's electing to do. You should also routinely manage your apps (under "main settings"), and delete where necessary. (Somehow there's always one or two you either forgot about or, much like a virus, didn't know you invited into your digital life at all. You can also tell Facebook NOT to use your visage in any of its own ads by switching the "Facebook ads" option to "no one" under privacy settings.

- Keep your face on Facebook alone. Turn off external search-engine visibility! (You can do this under "privacy" in main settings.) Facebook may not be the walled garden it once was, but you can still make it so no one without an account of their own can Google you.

- Use good judgment. The ultimate precaution in staying secure online comes down to using your wits. You can always ask yourself: "Would I want my boss/mother/landlord to see this?" That goes for anything you do on any social media. Even with all your filters seemingly in check, if you really feel a pang of doubt, maybe err on the side of caution and simply live the moment without digital documentation. Not everyone needs to see all 11 eateries you checked into this weekend.

- For your eyes only. There is an "only me" setting for just about every bit of profile data. This can work on anything from your relationship status, birthdate, or education to a particular real-time update, etc.

- Deactivate! Sure, like most things, it's scary the first time you do it, but then you realize it's not death — just a pause in your digital devotion that might actually enhance your real life. To deactivate your account: Go to "settings," then "security" on the left-hand column, and then "deactivate your account." Breathe. Click. Done!