Internet Safety for Teens: Keeping Your Profile Private from the Facebook Graph Search

When it comes to internet safety for teens, the phrase “new search engine” isn’t exactly striking fear into the hearts of adults everywhere. But with the recent launch of Facebook’s new graph search, maybe it should be. So what makes the graph search so much scarier than the Google and Bing searches we’ve come to know so well?

Probably the biggest difference that separates Facebook’s graph from the pack is that Facebook searches people rather than websites. And it doesn’t limit your search range to people you know or are friends with—it has the capability to search all of Facebook’s estimated 1 billion-plus users. Once you wrap your mind around using a search engine as a social tool, it becomes evident just how powerful this new phenomenon can be. Teens can find students from their high school who had the same basketball coach and now go to UNC. You can find restaurants that people from your new company like that are close to the office. But that’s just the fun stuff.

In the right hands, the graph search can be used to filter through your friends and maybe even make new ones. In the wrong hands, though, the graph search can quickly turn against users who haven’t made their Facebook information private. One blogger compiled a list of comical, though somewhat inappropriate, real-life graph searches that could turn up trouble for quite a few Facebook users. But after the humor wears off, it becomes clear that this tool could be more than embarrassing when used by those with less-than-honorable intentions. It’s all too easy for a user to search for women under 25 who enjoy jogging and have checked in at a certain running path after 6 p.m., or boys who go to the local high school, drive a Lexus, and are out of town on vacation. Though the graph’s creators may have had the best intentions, what originally made the search engine cool can all too easily be used to make it creepy.

So how can you make sure you and your teens aren’t showing up in someone else’s results? You’ve heard it before, and you’ll certainly hear it again: There’s no time like the present to check your privacy settings. This process can be complicated for even the most tech-savvy digital natives, but here are four steps that will get you started on keeping your personal information among friends.

Four Steps To Protect Your Privacy:

1. First, visit the Facebook privacy settings main page. Where it says “Who can see your future posts?” make sure it’s set to “Friends,” making that the default setting for all future posts and status updates. Even sharing information with “Friends of Friends” exponentially increases your online presence and risk, so keep it strictly to people you know.

2. Still on the Facebook privacy settings main page, click on “Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or public?” A warning will pop up letting you know that you’ll be changing all of your previous posts to friends-only, but that’s exactly what you want to do. (Think of that photo you may have posted freshman year that you’re letting your old camp friend’s ex-boyfriend creep on now. Exactly.) Click the “Limit Old Posts” button below the warning and confirm.

3. This is where the process gets a bit more painstaking. Go to your profile, and click on “About.” For each and every one of these sections, click on “Edit” and make sure the privacy is set to “Friends.” Warning: Depending on how much of your profile is currently public, this could require a lot of clicking. But it’ll be worth it for your safety and public image! If you’re worried you’ll miss something, check out Mashable’s step-by-step guide and follow along.

4. Before you surrender to carpal tunnel syndrome, take a final tour of your photo albums. Click on “Photos,” then “Albums.” Other than cover and profile pictures (which are public), you should be able to click on the bottom-right corner of each album and change the setting to “Friends.” This is also a great time to go through old photos and think again about whether you want them online.

On the topic of photos specifically, amping up your privacy can help protect you from showing up in searches, but you should never consider something you put on the Internet to be “private.” All it takes is a screenshot, a share, or one bad friend to take something seemingly harmless and turn it into a social or professional disaster. So when in doubt, follow this rule: If you aren’t comfortable with your boss, your teacher, or your grandma seeing it—don’t put it online. Ever.

How do you feel about the new Facebook graph search? Or do you have any advice for how to get teens to take Internet privacy seriously? Share your thoughts below!