(USA Today) -- Facebook is a fabulous way to connect with friends and family. Of course, Facebook is also a spectacular way to embarrass yourself. And it happens almost every day.
Users post personal photos and intimate status updates that they think only a few friends will see. Then the posts get broadcast to friends of friends or - worse - everyone.
Anyone can be surprised by an episode of oversharing if they're not paying attention - even Randi Zuckerberg, a former Facebook executive and sister of CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Last month, she posted a family photo intended for friends, but didn't choose the right privacy setting. A friend of another Zuckerberg sister grabbed it and posted it on Twitter.
And Facebook's announcement this week of a new tool call Graph Search - which will let you sift through photos, places and more that have been shared on Facebook - also makes this a really good time to check some of your privacy settings. For now, it's in a very limited beta trial as Facebook develops the product.
Fortunately, Facebook has a new tool to help simplify your privacy settings. In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, you probably also missed it. That's OK; it's easy to find.
When you're logged into Facebook, you'll notice a new lock icon in the top tool bar. Clicking on that brings up the new Privacy Shortcuts menu, where you can manage the Big Three privacy concerns: Who can see my stuff? Who can contact me? How do I stop someone from bothering me?
Without dropping what you're doing and navigating somewhere else, you can quickly block (unfriend) someone, verify that only friends are seeing your posts, filter how you receive messages and control who can send you friend requests.
This dropdown menu also provides a shortcut to your Activity Log, where you can review your past activity. And you can use the new Request and Removal tool to ask friends to take down pictures of you.
The Privacy Shortcuts area is an improvement, but there are other important settings buried away that still need attention. To access these, click on See More Settings in the Privacy Shortcuts menu. (This is the same as clicking on the gear icon next to it and choosing Privacy Settings.)
Under Privacy, check the answer to the all-important "Who can look me up?" You probably don't want that set to Everyone! I recommend Friends at least.
You probably don't want search engines finding your Facebook profile, either. I'd make sure that option is turned off.
If you regularly log in to websites with your Facebook account, you might be surprised by how many apps have access to your profile. Some apps may also have permission to make posts on your behalf. Modify these settings or remove apps you no longer use by going to Apps>>Apps You Use.
The "Apps others use" and "Instant personalization" subheadings also need attention.
You likely allow most of your friends to see your birthday, hometown and other personal data. "Apps others use" controls whether apps that your friends use can also grab that information. I recommend that you uncheck all the boxes.
"Instant personalization" allows information you've made public on Facebook to be used by partner sites, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, to customize your experience. If your goal is to share less, disable it.
Finally, make a pit stop under the Ads setting. Change "Third Party Sites" and "Ads & Friends" to No One from the two dropdown menus.
If these options are set to "Only my friends," Facebook can pair your name and profile picture with a paid ad and show it to your friends. You don't want that.