Reporting from a war zone: Facebook’s privacy settings edition

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Screenshot: me

At CNN, many of our bravest reporters put themselves in harm’s way to tell a story. Some travel to Iraq, other do live reports from the scene of a riot, and others get tasered.

Trying our hand at this, Stacy and I reported a story on Facebook’s privacy settings tonight. I’m sure our scars will heal in time.

We found that it’s surprising what Facebook automatically makes public, amazingly unclear exactly what Facebook always makes public, and difficult as all hell to navigate through the jungle of settings.

Default: Logging onto Facebook, I clicked on “privacy” and chose all of the default settings. I then went to my profile page, copied the link, logged off, then pasted in that link. Even though I was logged off, I could still view my name, profile photo, my photo albums, my friends list, my home town, my current city, my wife’s name, my interests, my activities and my “likes.” Wow.

"Friends only": I logged back in and chose what appear to be the most stringent settings: “Friends only.” I then logged off, and accessed my profile page. But I could still see my profile photo, my name and my friends list. Hmm…  

Most stringent: Logging back in, I realized there was still more to be done. I clicked on “view settings” under “connecting on Facebook.” I changed all seven of those to the most stringent settings, then clicked on “customize settings” under “sharing on Facebook,” and changed all 21 of those settings to the strictest settings. Logging off again, I saw that Facebook still showed my name and profile picture.

Through all of that (including using two computers and three Facebook log-ins, because Facebook didn’t like us accessing my profile offline too many times), we came to a pretty startling conclusion: By default, there’s a whole lot that everyone can see about you. And you’ve got to do a lot of work to whittle your way down to just your name and profile photo — and even that’s too much for some users. -David

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