Tara Swords

What the Web Says About You

Although social networks like Facebook are a great way to stay connected, they offer an endless source of potential embarrassments if you don’t carefully control who can see your information. In fact, if your privacy settings are lax, anybody anywhere -- even those without a Facebook account -- can see everything on your profile page, including your birth date, phone number, email address and photos. They can even see photos of you that other people post -- photos that you might never want in the public sphere.

If you use LinkedIn, the popular professional networking site, you probably don’t post as much personal information as you would on Facebook. But you still might want to control who can see your work history and who can send you unsolicited emails asking to be introduced to one of your connections.

Here’s how to find out who can see what and where, and ensure that the wrong information -- or pictures or videos -- doesn’t fall in the wrong hands:


Familiarize yourself with all your privacy setting options here. You can create separate friend lists -- for example, one list for family, one for friends, and another for acquaintances -- and apply different privacy settings to each. Don’t forget to also decide who can view information about you that other people post. The safest option is to make that information viewable only by you.

Some Facebook applications, such as Places, can let other people post your physical location to Facebook. (“Joe Smith has checked in at the Four Seasons.”) Facebook’s Instant Personalization service can tell other people when you share content. So when you share or “like” a news story from CNN.com, your friends who visit CNN will see that you shared it or liked it -- unless you change your privacy settings.


After logging in, click on “Profile” and find the “Change public profile settings” link. Here, you can decide what non-connections can see when they visit your profile page and even view it as others see it. Don’t forget to click “Change contact settings” to set how other people can contact you.


The default setting for accounts on Twitter is “public,” which means everything you post is public and can even turn up in Google searches. Or you can set your account to “protected,” which means only the people you approve can view your posts.

Whatever settings you choose for your social networking profiles, there’s nothing to stop one of your friends or connections from copying and pasting photos or information about you and passing it on. So keep tabs on who’s tagging you in photos, video or other content. Always use discretion when posting anything online, and never assume that online security measures are bulletproof. This is the Internet, after all, and once the cat is out of the bag, you can’t stuff it back in.