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How to boost privacy in the face of Facebook's new features

There are ways to opt out of Facebook's share-it-all revolution. You can control some aspects of apps, the Ticker and Timeline.

October 06, 2011|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times
  • Facebook is replacing your profile page with Timeline, which shows your entire life  or at least your entire Facebook experience  in a digital version of a scrapbook. But there are ways to tweak it.
Facebook is replacing your profile page with Timeline, which shows your…

Reporting from San Francisco — Facebook Inc. recently announced a bunch of new features that Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said would allow for "frictionless sharing."

Now you don't have to "like" something to share it. A new breed of apps will tell your friends what you read, listen to and watch — because when you sign up for them, that's what you give them permission to do.

As far as seismic visions for the Web, this is one of the big ones. Think about it: Everything you do online, shared automatically. And Facebook keeps a running log of it all.

Of course, that means some people will feel they have too little privacy. It also means Facebook will collect even more personal information and potentially make tons of money from it.

And, like it or not, none of that is going to change anytime soon. Despite the snarky comments and complaints, Facebook — with its 800 million users — is still as popular as ever: On a single day recently, 500 million people logged in to Facebook, Zuckerberg noted last month at the company's annual developers conference in San Francisco.

But there are ways to opt out of Facebook's share-it-all revolution.

Apps

First off, all of this sharing isn't entirely automatic. If you don't use the apps, then they can't share anything about you. Or if you do use them but want to maintain some mystery about your taste in music or television, you can, with a few clicks, restrict who finds out you have a secret love of Kenny G and "Petticoat Junction."

How to do it: Go to Facebook's applications settings page by clicking the arrow in the top right corner of the page, choosing "Account Settings" and then clicking "Apps" in the left-hand column. Edit each app's settings individually. For the most privacy, set the option "Who can see posts and activity from this app?" to "Custom" and select "Only Me."

Some apps have their own privacy settings. Spotify, for instance, has a "private listening" mode, and Hulu asks permission to share every time you watch a show.

The Ticker

Facebook is sharing this blizzard of information through a new feature called the Ticker. Zuckerberg says this is the perfect place to stream all that "lighter-weight" real-time information from your friends. This box in the right-hand column of the newly designed News Feed provides "a more complete picture of what your friends are doing right now," Facebook says.

The idea of having another news feed inside a news feed drives some people to distraction. Unfortunately, Facebook does not allow you to close the Ticker. But there are a few things you can do.

First, you can make the Ticker smaller by pulling up the horizontal bar and making your chat window bigger.

Second, if you use the Web browsers Chrome or Firefox, you can install extensions that banish the Ticker.

Third, you can control what your friends see about you in the Ticker. Remove individual items by clicking on "recent activity" in your profile or through the app settings, or change the privacy of your posts. You can also adjust your app activity privacy.

Timeline

Coming soon, Facebook is replacing your profile page with Timeline, which shows your entire life — or at least your entire Facebook experience — in a digital version of a scrapbook.

You scroll down to travel through time, with status updates, wall posts and photos popping up as the milestones of your life. Facebook automatically populates your Timeline with the activity that got the most likes and comments.

Dots that run down the center of Timeline represent the moments of your life that you've shared on Facebook. The gray dots are the moments that Facebook thinks are less important. If you disagree, you can hover over the gray dot, then click "Feature on Timeline" in the right-hand corner of the post. If you want to highlight an important event, you can hover over that item in your Timeline and click on the star in the top right-hand corner.

Facebook doesn't always choose the moments that are most significant to you. But with a bit of elbow grease, you can edit Timeline — add a few events here, delete a few there — and come up with a Timeline that mirrors your life (or life the way you prefer to remember it).

For some people, Timeline will be a revelation. For others, it will be creepy, making it too easy for friends to scroll through the highlights (and lowlights) of their lives.

There are not a lot of options if you don't want to let it all hang out on your Timeline. In the coming weeks, Facebook will roll out Timeline to everyone.

But there are ways to tweak it.

First, you can delete individual items from your Timeline by clicking the drop-down menu in the upper right corner of the item and selecting "Hide from Timeline." You can also add items that are missing.

Second, you can click the "View Activity" tab at the top of the page. This is a private log of your activity on Facebook that only you can see. It allows you to control which items you feature and which you hide. You can adjust the settings to "Feature on Timeline," "Allow on Timeline" or "Hide from Timeline." You can also sort through all the activity to quickly locate certain types such as a photo, an event or a specific app,

Bear in mind that your current privacy settings apply to new posts but not to older posts. If you shared old posts more publicly and want to change that, go to "Privacy Settings" and click "Limit the Audience for Past Posts." A box will pop up. Click "Limit Old Posts."

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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