It's hard to open Facebook (www.facebook.com) during the summer without seeing a slew of vacation photos in your daily feed. These days, part of the fun of a modern vacation includes showing off for the folks back home (and I admit that I'm a huge offender).
In the race to upload that perfect photo, though, many travelers forget about privacy and safety concerns until it's too late. The time to fix your Facebook privacy settings is before your trip begins -- and not after you realize that you left your home address visible for the world to see.
"The biggest problem that people run into is that they don't understand the tools they are using," said Christopher Budd, a social media security and privacy expert (www.christopherbudd.com). "That's what leads to the 'oh crap' moment: 'Oh crap, I didn't realize that my mom was going to see that.'"
And what makes Facebook confusing for newbies is that the default settings are very public, meaning that if you don't change your privacy preferences, many things you post -- including your status updates, bio information, and relationships -- will be seen by everyone (in fact, Facebook lists this as their "recommended" settings).
"Their default settings are too permissive for almost anyone," Budd said. Unless someone is "truly an exhibitionist," Budd says the first step toward taking control of Facebook is to "go in and ratchet down some of the privacy settings."
If you're concerned about your privacy yet would like to share elements of your vacation on Facebook, here are few more things to keep in mind:
Know yourself and your limits. How much should you share? The answer depends on how comfortable you are with living out loud. Extroverts or bloggers who are already used to exposing their personal lives take to Facebook with a vengeance; most other people, not so much. It's OK to be cautious with your private life. Don't worry about what your long-lost friend from high school is posting and think about what works for yourself and/or your family.
Set up Facebook groups in advance. If I could do one thing over with my Facebook account, I would have put friends into groups from the very beginning, when they really were just friends. Now my list includes a conglomeration of day job colleagues, travel writers, blog fans, public relations professionals, random strangers, and my dad. Navigating the privacy controls for such a wide swatch of people is difficult, to say the least.
So learn from my mistake. Set up as many groups as you need to, with different privacy controls for each. That way, you can keep that mental health day invisible to your work friends and keep photos of your children off-limits to strangers.
Consider information blackouts. Be more strict with your status updates and posts while you're away, said Rick Ramos, CEO of Dual Eagle Marketing (www.dualeagle.com). "After you get back home, you can always change your settings (back) to allow everyone to be envious of your trip," Ramos said.
Watch your friends. "Nothing is worse than being careful, only to have a friend tag some photos or check you into a venue without you realizing it," Ramos said.
Indeed. I've learned the hard way that people have different ideas of what makes an appropriate Facebook photo or wall posting, and what doesn't. If you're traveling with friends or family members, let them know ahead of time what your social media boundaries are.