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Posted on March 23, 2015 by in Identity & Privacy, Personal

Earlier this year, Facebook changed its privacy policy to a model that’s designed to deliver more-targeted advertising to its users. Although that might seem harmless, as we’re served numerous online ads all the time, the latest changes to Facebook privacy are worth a second glance.

Identity thieves are always on the lookout for personal information, and large-scale changes to privacy settings like those recently made by Facebook might give thieves more ammunition than you’d expect.

What Has Changed?

People have grown accustomed to online ads that seem to “follow” them across the Internet. For example, if you buy red shoes at an online retailer, you’ll likely notice that ads for other red shoes will keep popping up for weeks, no matter what site you visit. These are called “cookie-based ads,” and they work through algorithms that take note of your search and general purchase history.

But Facebook privacy changes go beyond the cookie approach. Instead of relying on user behavior like searches and shopping history, Facebook delivers all the information in a profile to advertisers that use the company’s ad platform.

Facebook says it doesn’t share information that personally identifies a user by name. However, consider what advertisers do get: demographic information based on your birthdate, education, workplace and location. Having that data allows advertisers to target you fairly accurately.

Even more of a concern is that the Facebook privacy policy changes allow the company to track your online browsing habits and history. That means you don’t even have to be on Facebook for the site to gather information about you and to share that information with advertisers. The strategy is so intrusive that a Belgian commission is already investigating whether it violates European privacy law.

The worst part? You can’t opt out. The only way you can sidestep this data-gathering is by closing your account.

Social but Safe

When considering how to protect your privacy online, it’s important to remember that the more you share, the greater the risk. As the Facebook privacy issues demonstrate, you always need to keep in mind who can access information about you. For example, suppose one of your security questions on a financial site concerns your dog’s name or the city where you were born. Your Facebook page might reveal seemingly trivial personal details like these, which identity thieves can use to try to hijack your identity.

Protect your privacy by adopting good social media habits, like being aware of what’s posted and only “friending” people you actually know. You may not be able to opt out of Facebook privacy changes, but you can make it harder for identity thieves (and advertisers) to know everything about you.

Image courtesy of Flickr user g4ll4is.