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3 reasons to clean up your Facebook act

Sienna Kossman
Facebook and privacy

Facebook may help us connect with relatives and share comical-yet-relatable memes, but what if financially unstable, distant Internet “friends” are the reason you’re not approved for a small loan? It might be time to reconsider who you’re friending — or staying friends with — just in case.

And that’s just one way Facebook might be too involved in our lives. Even if you love the popular social site, I bet you’ve paused once or twice while scrolling through your newsfeed and thought something like, “Wow, how does Facebook know I bought that?” Or, “I only read one article about debt collection, why am I seeing links to seven more?”

As technology advances and our online presence grows, it may be time to amend our social media habits to help ensure personal information doesn’t get into the wrong — or at least too many — hands. Did you read Facebook’s entire privacy policy before clicking “I accept”? I didn’t either.

Here are three reasons to rethink how you engage with Facebook on a daily basis:

1. Your creditworthiness may depend on your friends.

Facebook secured a patent on August 4 that includes technology that could allow lenders to use your social network to help determine if you are a worthy credit risk.

On page 8 of its patent, Facebook vaguely outlined that, “When an individual applies for a loan, the lender examines the credit ratings of members of the individual’s social network who are connected to the individual through authorized nodes. If the average credit rating of these members is at least a minimum credit score, the lender continues to process the loan application. Otherwise, the loan application is rejected.”

It’s unknown whether Facebook will actually use the patent for lending purposes or creditors could legally let Facebook friend data play a role in lending decisions. But if it becomes an option and your financial profile is weak, causing lenders to look elsewhere for more information to prove your creditworthiness, you may be out of luck if your online connections’ credit histories are as weak as yours. Fortune says some lending startups are already starting to do this with social networking site data.

2. Facebook profits from your activity.
If I like too many of my friends’ wedding photo albums, I’ll see engagement ring ads for days.

This uber-targeted advertising is creepy, but so is Facebook’s clever way of cashing in on all the personal details we share — earning $7 for each member’s data it shares with paying advertisers, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Geoffrey Fowler.

Companies have used tracking cookies to determine what ads might tempt you for a while, but the revealing nature of Facebook gives them better — and more — information than ever before.

Every “like,” status update and photo caption you make is a glimpse into your identity and private life that advertisers can use to better target ads to you once Facebook shares that data with marketers, according to online privacy expert Kim Komando. Just added a “graduated from college” life event? Don’t be surprised if you start seeing ads for student loan repayment services.

Fortunately, you can put the brakes on this kind of behavioral tracking for advertisements.

Facebook, along with 176 other major companies, is part of the Digital Advertising Alliance that can help you opt out of “online behavioral advertising.” A free DAA tool checks your computer to see what companies are targeting you with customized ads and then you can choose to opt out of targeted ads for every participating DAA company. Goodbye, creepy ads!

3. Profile details can be used against you.
Even if you enjoy shopping from Facebook ads, the information you put on Facebook can attract unwanted attention from identity thieves, scammers or even debt collectors.

The following data points — all of which you probably offered up when you created a Facebook profile — can be used to steal your identity, according to an Entrepreneur’s Organization post.

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Hometown
  • Relationship status
  • School locations and graduation dates
  • Pets names
  • Interests and hobbies

The more information you provide, the more you put yourself at risk, especially if your profile is public.

If you’ve been able to evade debt collection phone calls, but put your email address on Facebook, a quick search and debt collectors have a new way to contact you. I don’t encourage evading financial responsibilities; just know your profile can attract unwanted attention of all sorts.

Even if you’ve kept your profile details vague and/or private, clicking or sharing suspicious links can open the threat gates all over again.

For example, fraudulent Publix grocery store coupons circulated Facebook in early July and gave the computers of those who downloaded them a malware infection. “Free airline ticket voucher with purchase” scams are also popular during the summer travel season, so proceed with caution. Keep all direct contact information off Facebook. Set your profile to private so only the people you accept as “friend” connections can see it. Don’t respond to messages soliciting personal details or payment information in exchange for products or services.

It’s best that you control your online presence so no one else can.

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