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Facebook and Privacy: How Private Is Your Profile?

by The Drifter on December 1, 2009

Reading time: 4 – 7 minutes


Recently a Canadian woman was cut off from her insurance benefits because her Facebook profile was used by her insurance company to gather evidence on her claim. Facebook can be a good networking tool and a good way to keep in touch with old friends, not to mention a great Halloween costume, but the proper precautions should always be taken to prevent unnecessary privacy disclosures.

How Private Is Your Facebook Profile?

Nathalie Blanchard was on leave from her job after being diagnosed with depression. As part of her insurance coverage, she received sick leave benefits from her insurance company Manulife. While investigating the claim, her insurance company searched through her Facebook profile and found pictures of her smiling, evidence that she was no longer suffering from depression, and canceled her benefits.  Thus you may be disclosing information affecting your legal rights.

It is entirely possible that Ms. Blanchard was not suffering from depression and that the decision to end her benefits was justified. It is also possible that she was in fact suffering from depression and was able to smile on a few occasions over the course of several months, even while she was still suffering, and that the termination of her benefits was unjustified. If she had taken some simple precautions she could have avoided the hassle that resulted from the disclosure of incriminating information.

How To Maintain Privacy With Social Networking Sites Like Facebook

The easiest way to avoid unnecessary privacy invasions is to avoid social networking sites altogether. Any network can be hacked and the information submitted can be compromised, regardless of the privacy settings you employ. It is not only the information you submit to the social networking site that can cause problems.  Your friends and acquaintances may also post information about you that you would not want to have shared with others.  Although Facebook has increased their security in recent months, in the past there have been significant security concerns with the information submitted to the site. Given the power and convenience that social networking sites offer, avoiding them completely might be extreme than many people are willing to go for their privacy.

Specific Steps to Guard Your Facebook Privacy

If you still want to keep your profile, the next best thing to do is to keep your profile as clean of personal information as possible. Although the Facebook  Statement of Rights and Responsibilities states that you “will not provide any false personal information on Facebook,” and a birthdate is required to sign up, make the birthdate invisible on your profile by editing the “Basic Information” in your “Profile” tab.  Other profile information can be left blank if the fields are not required.

Key Privacy Settings in Facebook

No matter how much information you actually submit to Facebook, you should still check it to make sure that the proper privacy settings are in place. There are a few Facebook settings that would have helped Ms. Blanchard avoid her unwanted disclosure.

When you have opened your Facebook profile go to “Settings,”  “Privacy Settings” and set all of the fields in the “Profile” tab to “friends only.” Since you control who your friends are, this limits the disclosure of information to only those who you choose.

There will also be a tab for “Search” on the “Privacy Settings” page.  This page allows you to limit those who search for your profile inside and outside of Facebook depending on the settings you choose. I recommend at least limiting your search visibility to friends. There is also a “Public Search Listing” box that you should un-check in order to remove your name from results of a web query like Google or Yahoo.  There are several options under both of these tabs so you can choose the level of privacy you wish to maintain.


If you do not take proper precautions, your social networking profile can be making the job of a private investigator very easy. Take the proper precautions to avoid the hassle that Ms. Blanchard has had to go through by carefully protecting your profile and yourself.  A complete guide to privacy protection can be found in the book How to Vanish.

What Privacy Issues Concern You?

I write articles based mostly on what I am thinking about, what issues I see raised in the media and by others, and what I think other people would be interested in learning. I have also been spending some time putting these ideas down in a very detailed and organized way in a book so that I can present it as good resource for everyone. I have also been asked to write about some topics that answer some of the questions of readers for other websites. I want to make sure that I am addressing all of the issues that you, the readers, are concerned about. Leave comments and emails about what privacy concerns you have and I will do my best to respond to your concerns.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The Drifter is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting from the University of Utah and a law degree from California Western School of Law. He practices civil litigation, domestic and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and financial freedom and civil liberties. This is merely one article of 131 by .
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