Consider this a resolution for the new year: Do a regular check on how much information you reveal about yourself on social media.
That recommendation comes from privacy and security experts, and it's especially good advice when the rules of sharing change frequently. Last year, Facebook, Google (GOOG) and Twitter announced new policies that had the potential to alter what others could learn about you. So if it's been a while since you reviewed who sees your party photos, political musings or other personal information, here are some tips to reduce over-sharing with potential employers, identity thieves or anyone else searching online.
Facebook made its vast archive of posts more discoverable last year with a new feature called Graph Search, which lets users look up people, photos and recommendations. Facebook also stopped letting users block strangers from finding them with Graph Search. But while your name and profile photo are now considered public, it's also easier to restrict who can see individual posts.
The first thing to remember is that you don't have to share everything with everyone. You can review your list of friends and assign each to a narrower group, such as close friends, acquaintances or lists that you create for work associates, family or any custom category you want. Whenever you post on Facebook, you can click to share with one or more of these groups, rather than use the "public" setting.
If you haven't paid attention to this in the past, use the "Activity Log" (click on the link near the upper right of your screen) to review your old updates and posted photos. You can change the audience setting (click on the icon to the right of each post) if you decide you've shared too widely.
It's also worth checking the "Privacy Shortcuts" that appear when you click on the padlock icon in the upper right or left of your screen. These will show you answers to questions like "Who can see my stuff?" based on the settings you've previously chosen. They also provide links to change those settings.
Don't stop there. Go to the main "Settings" page (click on the drop-down menu in the upper right of your desktop screen) and see your options for both "Privacy" and "Timeline and Tagging." Here's where you can opt to review other people's posts that mention you by name, before they appear on your timeline.
While you're in that section, note the question about "Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?" This is where you can block Facebook from using facial recognition software to identify you and suggest your name for a caption when someone uploads a photo you're in. (Some people find this helpful; others call it creepy.)
Also on the settings page, it's a good idea to review your options for notifications, apps and ads. Here, you can adjust the information that your Facebook apps and games share with friends, and what your friends' apps share about you. You can also opt out of seeing personalized ads, based on your activity off Facebook. And if you don't want Facebook to use your name, photo and likes in "social ads" that it shows to others, click the "Edit" link next to "Ads and Friends."
Google+ works a little differently from Facebook, by making a central feature out of assigning friends to different "circles" so you can choose your audience for each post. But Google recently followed Facebook's lead in one respect, announcing it will show Google+ users' names and photos along with ratings or recommendations in social ads.
As with Facebook, you can opt out of those ads: From your Google+ home page, click on the drop-down menu in the upper left of your screen and choose "settings." Look for an item called "Shared Endorsements" and choose "Off" if you don't want to participate.
Review all the settings while you're on this page, including the one that offers to "find my face in photos and videos and prompt people I know to tag me." Leave this box unchecked if you don't want Google's facial recognition software to identify you when someone uploads a photo you're in.
Now go back to the drop-down menu in the upper left of your screen and choose "Profile." Click on the "About" link and see how your profile appears to different people or the general public. Then click to view it "as yourself" and you'll be given the option to edit your profile information and who sees it. As on Facebook and other sites, security experts warn against sharing too many biographical details, like birth date or birthplace, that can be used in identify theft.
You can also review past activity by going to your "Posts" page. Unlike Facebook, you can't retroactively change which circles see an old post, although you can delete it if you don't want it on your profile. Remember that once you share a post with a circle, someone in that circle can "reshare" it more broadly, unless you click the upper right corner of a post and select "Disable reshares."
Twitter's design, meanwhile, encourages broadcasting to the world. Almost anyone can follow you on Twitter and anything you share is public by default. But you can set limits.
You can choose to "protect" your tweets so they can only be read by followers you accept in advance. From your main Twitter page, click on the gear icon in the upper right and select settings, then select "Security and privacy" and "Protect my Tweets." On the same page, you can choose whether to announce your location when you tweet.
Twitter also lets you block unwanted followers; the company tried changing this last month but a storm of complaints forced it to restore the original policy. Blocking prevents a person from following you or adding you to their lists; the person's mentions or replies won't show up in your notifications.
You can block people by going to their profile page while you're signed in to Twitter: Click the little person icon under their picture and select "Block." But note that a person can still find your tweets on your public profile, unless you've chosen to "protect" them.
Remember that on the Internet, even things meant to be private have a way of getting out. And don't run afoul of some quirky rules: For example, if you send a tweet that starts with someone's Twitter handle, it's not private. The message will appear on your profile page and in the timeline of anyone who follows both you and that person.
Follow Brandon Bailey at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey or google.com/+BrandonBaileyOnline or on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/ULIOfb.
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Some privacy settings tips to look out for on Facebook: