Privacy Settings for Facebook

NOTE: Facebook has recently updated their privacy policy and changed their privacy options. I updated this article to account for the new Facebook privacy settings.

Facebook logo

Facebook is currently the most popular social networking website with over 250 million active users worldwide. Anyone who is 13 and over can sign up for a Facebook account and can add friends and share their most intimate information with their friends including pictures and personal information. While it can be fun and convenient to keep up with old friends and make new ones online, sharing too much personal information on these sites can be risky.

  • Drunk pictures from that freshman frat party which your buddy tagged and now your coworkers and boss would be able to see.
  • Status updates about your current relationship status or lack of
  • Your phone number, contact information and more..

So how do you separate your “Facebook friends” but share stuff with your real friends?

Facebook gives its users options around privacy and security where you can configure privacy settings to restrict access to your Facebook profile information. So whether you are an established Facebook user or a new user getting your feet wet in the world of social networking, here are the top 10 privacy settings for Facebook you should follow to help protect your profile including photos and your personal information.

1. Create friends lists: This is probably the single most important and best privacy setting for Facebook.  Once you log into your Facebook account, click on the “Friends” page at the top. Once in there, on the left side of the Friends page, you will see under Lists different groups including some created by default. Now, click on the Create button to create your Facebook friends lists.

  • Resist the temptation to start assigning your friends to the lists. Think of all the different categories first and create them.
  • I have 7 different lists: Close Buddies, Family, Friends, High School, College, Facebook Friends and Work. This is a ranked list with the group I trust the most coming first.
  • There are two default lists created by Facebook: Limited Profile and SMS Subscriptions.
  • Once your lists are created, click on Friends under the Lists section which displays your entire friends list. Use the drop box to start assigning your friends to the different lists.
  • You can assign a friend to multiple lists. However, I would highly recommend that you assign just one list to a friend.
  • Updated to add: The reason I recommend to only assign a friend to a single list is that the less restrictive settings apply. For example, if you have a friend that is part of your close friends list (my least restrictive) and also part of say Facebook friends list(my most restrictive), the less restrictive settings would apply (close friends settings) unless you explicitly exclude a list from accessing something, say photos to Facebook friends, then if you have a friend that is part of both lists, they won’t be able to view the photos. So, be careful when assigning friends to lists.  – Thanks to Matt T for the question.

2. Customize your Facebook privacy settings:

Now, let us customize the privacy settings of your Facebook account. Hover over Settings and then click on Privacy Settings from the drop menu.

Customize Facebook privacy settings
Customize Facebook privacy settings

3. Block people on Facebook: If you block someone, they will not be able to find you in a Facebook search, see your profile, or interact with you through Facebook channels (such as Wall posts, Poke, etc.). Any Facebook ties you currently have with a person you block will be broken (for example, friendship connections, Relationship Status, etc.).

Block people on Facebook
Block people on Facebook

4. Configure your Facebook Profile privacy: When you created and assigned your friends to the different friends lists, it did not enforce any privacy.

Facebook profile privacy
Facebook profile privacy

Under Privacy, select Profile which gives you Facebook privacy options on who can see what information in your profile.  This section is split into two parts: the basic section and the contact information section.

The Basic section helps you assign controls around your personal information like profile, status, photos, videos etc and a bunch of other options. Let us walk through each one of these settings.

  • Profile: Use this control to decide who can see your profile information beyond the information available when someone searches for you. My recommendation is to select Only Friends.
  • Basic Info: Use this control to decide who, upon reaching your profile, can see your basic information, which includes your Gender, Birthday, Hometown, Political and Religious Views, and Relationship Status. This is also the first option where you can customize using your friends lists. Somethings you probably don’t want to talk at work include sex, religion and politics. Time to put that into practice. Click on Edit Custom Settings and select Only Friends. Add lists under Except these people.
  • Personal Info: Use this control to decide who, upon reaching your profile, can see your Personal Information, which includes your Interests, Activities, Favorites (music, movies, etc.) and your About Me section. Again, select Only Friends and go to edit custom settings and add friends lists with whom you don’t want to share this information.
  • Status and Links: Use this control to decide who sees your Facebook status updates. In here you have couple options. You can either choose Only Friends or choose Some Friends. You can also decide whether you want your friends to subscribe to your status messages.
Facebook status message privacy
Facebook status message privacy
  • Photos Tagged of You: This option lets you decide who can see your photos which you uploaded or which you or your friends tagged. You want to be very cautious on who can tag your pictures or who can view your pictures. Go to Edit Custom Settings and choose your friend lists. As always exclude groups as well. If you are still doubting why you should control this setting, check out this story on AskStudent on how Facebook busted an intern. So Kevin had this Halloween party to go to and emails his manager that he is taking off because of a family emergency in New York. Now Kevin is having a good time and wanted to share the pictures from the Halloween party. The problem: Kevin also was friends with his manager and/or coworkers on Facebook. The intern’s manager replies back to Kevin with a picture attached from his Facebook profile and copied the entire team on it. Moral of the story: Control who can see your status messages and pictures on Facebook.

Dont let this be YOU
Don't let this be YOU
  • Videos Tagged of You: Use this option to choose who can see the videos that you shared or you or your friends tagged. Again, go to Edit Custom settings. Choose your friends lists and exclude certain groups.
  • Friends: Use this control to see who can see the full list of your friends on Facebook. Now, for some this could be a bragging rights. Hopefully if that’s the case, you have lots of your friends tagged as “Facebook friends”.  In any case, choose Only Friends and under Except these people, start adding lists.
Facebook friends list privacy
Facebook friends list privacy
  • Wall Posts: Here, you can choose whether to even let people post on your Facebook wall in the first place by selecting or deselecting “Friends may post to my Wall” option. If you choose to let people post to your wall, go to Edit Custom Settings and choose either Only Friends or Some Friends option. I would recommend you choose Some Friends option and customize it.
Privacy options for your Facebook wall posts
Privacy options for your Facebook wall posts
  • Education Info: This option lets you control who can see your education info on your Facebook profile. Again, go to Edit Custom Settings and choose who can see your education info. This is probably one of the options with the minimum restrictions.
  • Work Info: This option lets you control who can see your work information, previous employment history and other work information you posted in your profile.

Phew! Now, if you want to verify how the privacy settings you just configured show up, you can see how a friend sees your profile.

See through the looking glass
See through the looking glass

5. Facebook Search privacy: You can control your visibility on Facebook, who can search for you, what they can see, and how they can contact you. While there may be reasons on why you may not want people to look you up on Facebook, if you made the decision to join the social networking community, try to embrace it. However, if you choose to remove yourself from Facebook search results

  • Under Settings -> Privacy Settings, select Search
  • Under search visibility, go to customize and uncheck the box for everyone on Facebook.
  • My recommendation: Control what people can see and leave your search visibility to everyone.

You also have options around making your Facebook contact information private. Facebook lets you share your IM Screen name, your mobile phone number, your current address, your website and your email addresses. It is very important that you protect your contact information.

  • Under Settings -> Privacy Settings, select Profile and then select Contact Information
  • I would recommend that you make all the options to Only Friends except your Current Address which should either be No One or make it custom so only your close friends and family can see it. If any one else wants your contact information, they can call you and you can choose to give it to them.
Facebook Privacy settings for contact information
Facebook Privacy settings for contact information

6. Facebook and search engines: Your public search listing is a version of your search result that is available to people who search for you even when they are not logged in to Facebook. Content that you make available through your public search listing may be available on search engines or on public-facing Facebook pages.

Being displayed on search engines is a great way for people to get in touch with you. Facebook search results tend to rank pretty high so if someone wants to get in touch with you, this is an excellent opportunity. However, you don’t want to reveal too much information at the same time.

  • Under Settings -> Privacy Settings, select Search
  • Under Search Result Content, use the checkboxes to control what people can see in addition to your name.
  • I would recommend just select your profile picture and the links to add you as a friend and a link to send you a message.
  • Also, you also have to check the box next to “Create a public search listing for me and submit it for search engine indexing”.
Facebook public search listing privacy options
Facebook public search listing privacy options

So, when someone is searching for you on Google or any other search engines, your profile would look something like this.

Sample public search listing on Facebook
Sample public search listing on Facebook

7. News Feed and Wall: This option lets you control what recent activity is visible on your profile and in your friend’s home pages. Remember that posting on someone’s Wall may appear in your mutual friends’ News Feeds. You just broke up with your significant other …  do you want to announce that to the world? However, if you choose to keep some of the most personal things in your life well.. personal, you can enforce that privacy setting here.

Facebook does offer limited privacy in that your recent activity will never be shown about whose profile you view, whose photos you view, whose notes you read, groups and events you decline to join, people you reject as friends and people you remove from your friends list.

  • Under Settings -> Privacy Settings, select News Feed and Wall
  • Deselect the option of Show Wall posts
  • I would highly recommend deselect Change relationship status option under highlights section
  • I would also highly recommend under recent activity the option of Add a friend
Facebook News Feed and Wall privacy options
Facebook News Feed and Wall privacy options

8. Facebook Ads

Ads shown within Facebook recently caused a lot of controversy with the usage of your photos in ads. Facebook came out and countered that these rumors were related to third party applications, and not ads shown by Facebook. If in doubt check out what happens if you happened to use the “Have Sex!” application (warning: clicking on link will take you to this application) and could result in potential embarrassment by such feeds being published on your profile.

Have Sex ! application posting on your Facebook wall
Have Sex ! application posting on your Facebook wall

Facebook also said that those ads violated their policies by misusing profile photos and did not give third party applications or ad networks the right to use your name or picture in ads. In either case, if this is allowed in the future, this setting will govern the usage of your information.

  • Under Settings -> Privacy Settings ->News Feed and Wall, select Facebook Ads
  • In the option under Allow ads on platform pages to show my information to, select No one and Save Changes
  • Follow the Set Application security Facebook privacy settings below.
Facebook third party ad privacy settings
Facebook third party ad privacy settings

9. Set Application security: Every time you participate in one of those Facebook quizzes and adding an application to your profile, you are sharing some very sensitive information with those applications. If you read about the experience of Cheryl Smith who participated in a quiz and then the third party app used her picture to advertise for hot singles.

Applications can advertise with your mugshot
Applications can advertise with YOUR picture

To modify your Facebook privacy settings for applications, click on Applications under Privacy and then click on Settings which is the second tab.

  • If you are using any applications, you won’t be able to completely opt out. If you are not using any Facebook applications, select the Do not share any information about me through the Facebook API option.
  • If you are using applications, deselect all options and choose only if any Basic info option. Basic info consists of your birthday, sex, hometown, political views, and when you last updated your profile.

10. Facebook Beacon & Connect: Think about the amount of data Facebook knows about you. It knows who your friends are, what you like, eat, enjoy, you age domographic, your school, your employment history, where you live or lived and so on. All of this gives Facebook the chance to personalize ads. For example, if you reviewed an item or purchased something, a Beacon affiliate can publish that as a feed on your Facebook wall and on your friends walls as well.

Make sure you dont review something inappropriate
Make sure you don't review something inappropriate

To modify your Facebook beacon privacy settings, under Privacy ->Applications -> Settings, scroll down towards the bottom of that page under Facebook Connect Applications.

  • Select the option of Don’t allow friends to view my memberships on other websites through Facebook Connect.
  • Under Beacon Websites, select the option of Don’t allow Beacon websites to post stories to my profile.

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  1. Great article!

    I have to send it to some of my friends. The problem of social networks is that users don’t really know (and don’t care) about how to use them correctly!

  2. Thank you for a very helpful article!

    I prefer not to show a list of my friends on my profile page and have followed your suggestion, selecting ‘Only Friends’ then excluding my friends lists. My full friends list does not appear.

    However, I have some mutual friends and if I view my profile as one of them, there is a Mutual Friends box showing. If I then click on the link ‘_ friend(s) in common’ or the link ‘View All’, all my friends are shown, defeating the purpose of not showing a list of my friends.

    Is there a way to prevent this happening?

  3. Some of these are not on the privacy settings. For example: Wall posts, facebook privacy, facebook search engines, News feed and wall and facebook ads. These are not under privacy settings.

  4. I have a low profile acct on Facebook. I don’t like to log on because other “friends” can see that I am “online”.
    Is there a privacy control so that I can log on FB but, not let everyone on my friends list know that I am online?
    I usually just like to look something up quickly and go off line again.

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