If you’re involved in a criminal or civil case, subpoena power allows attorneys to review all information on Facebook regardless of your settings. While most companies (example: Google’s gmail) have policies that inform the user before delivering information in response to a subpoena, it’s not clear whether or not Facebook does this. Also, keep in mind that if you’re arrested courts have ruled that every piece of data on your cell phone can be reviewed as “incidental to your arrest” and used against you in court. (This is rediculous, by the way– never before have police been able to review years of personal and professional corespondence, photos, notes, etc. without a search warrant. I’m hoping this will be overturned on appeal on constitutional grounds.) This would obviously include Facebook posts for anyone who accesses the service from their smartphone.
Bottom line, privacy settings are important, but they aren’t a silver bullet. You must be mindful of what you post. Will those pictures of you and your friends’ drunken revelry make it more difficult for you to get a job? Will pictures of you skiing be used to show that you are falsely called in sick? Will a post about your political opinions cause a hiring manager with opposing views to skip over your resume and not give you an interview?
The amount of history we are building of ourselves online is unprecedented, and it’s not clear what the impacts will be long term. My bet is that it levels the playing field in that everyone will have embarrassing stuff online, but it will take time for new community standards to evolve. In the meantime, be mindful of what you post, and don’t assume that just because you’ve configured social media networks to protect your data that it will be safe from prying eyes. People are still getting used to the degree of tracking that is possible online, it’s not like the brick-and-mortar world where Target tracks shoppers habits, tracking can be much more pervasive online. Only by leveling the playing field can the impact of this be reduced.