Facebook Privacy Settings Tutorial

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Step-by-Step Guide to Facebook Privacy Settings

Facebook privacy menu access
© Facebook

Facebook's privacy settings are complicated and change often, making it hard for people to take control of their privacy on the world's largest social network. Facebook made major changes to its privacy controls in 2011, so some older controls either no longer apply or have moved to other areas of your Facebook pages.

It's important to pay attention to your privacy settings on Facebook and learn the basics of how to control who sees the content you are sharing. Otherwise, Facebook may choose default settings that will share more information with the public than you intend or want.

There are three basic ways to access privacy controls on Facebook:

  1. 1. By clicking "Privacy Settings" in the pull-down menu under the little gear icon to the right of your name in the upper right corner on most Facebook pages (outlined in red in the screen shot above.) This takes you to the main privacy settings page, where you should take the time to wade through all the options. They are explained below and on the two subsequent pages of this tutorial.
  2. 2. By clicking the tiny lock icon also to the right of your name in the upper right corner of most Facebook pages. This reveals a drop down menu of privacy shortcuts, with some of the same options that are available on the main privacy controls page. You'll see slightly different wording, but the functions are the same--these controls allow you to choose who can see your information on Facebook.
  3. 3. By accessing what Facebook calls the inline privacy controls or "inline audience selector," a pulldown menu appearing right next to whatever content you are posting or sharing. This inline privacy menu is supposed to make it easier to choose different privacy settings for different types of content, so you can make sharing decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Facebook Privacy Controversy

Privacy advocates have long criticized Facebook for collecting too much information about its users and not always clearly disclosing how it shares that user data with third parties. In late November 2011 Facebook agreed to settle a complaint filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over its data disclosure policies.

The FTC's settlement order accused Facebook of deceiving its users by doing such things as abruptly changing their default privacy settings without advance notice. As part of the settlement, Facebook agreed to submit to privacy audits for the next two decades.

Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg wrote a blog post about the settlement acknowledging that the social network he founded had made "a bunch of mistakes" involving privacy, but nonetheless saying that the agreement "formalizes our commitment to providing you with control over your privacy and sharing..."

Do Facebook Default Settings Over Share?

Privacy advocates and regulators have long criticized the social network for setting default privacy options that make too much of each user's profiles public, which means it can be viewed by anyone and everyone. The result can be a loss of personal privacy for various reasons.

Many people want to make Facebook private so only their friends see most of what they post on the network.

On the next page, let's look at the basic Facebook sharing options which you access by clicking "Privacy Settings" in the pulldown menu as shown above.

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A Closer Look at Key Facebook Privacy Settings

Facebook privacy settings
Facebook privacy settings page Inset at left shows audience selector.

The privacy settings page for your Facebook account, shown above, is designed to let you specify how widely you want to share material in various contexts on Facebook. As previously stated, access these options by clicking either the lock icon at upper right of every Facebook page or "Privacy Settings" in the pull-down menu under the gear icon beside the lock.

Default Sharing: Change to FRIENDS

At the very top is "who can see my stuff?"  For many years, the default sharing option for new Facebook accounts was "public" for who can see what you post on Facebook--your status updates, photos, videos, links and other content. That meant by default, it was set to Public, so unless you changed it to "Friends", anyone and everyone could see your posts. BUT in the spring of 2014, Facebook announced a significant change in its default privacy sharing option for new accounts, automatically sharing posts only with "friends" and not the general public. It's important to note this change ONLY affects Facebook accounts created in 2014 or later. Users who first signed up for Facebook before 2014 got a "public" default sharing option, which they may or may not have changed. It's easy to change the default sharing option, provided you know how.

The option you set here is important because it will be the default for everything you post on Facebook unless you override it manually using the audience selector box or "inline" sharing menu each time you post something.  Facebook has a general rule governing all of your posts (the "default" level of sharing) and also an individual level of sharing which you can set for individual posts, which can be different from the general default. Sounds complicated, but what it means is, you can have your general default sharing level set to only "friends," but occasionally use the audience selector box on specific posts to, say, make a general statement viewable to anyone, or make a particular post only viewable to a list you might create of, say, your family.

This default sharing option also determines who can see posts you make from other applications that lack Facebook's inline privacy controls, such as BlackBerry's mobile Facebook app.

The sharing options are shown in the small inset image at left above. They are represented by small icons --a globe for Public heads for Friends, a lock for only yourself, and a gear for a Custom list you may create. This is known as your "audience selector" and it's accessible from your main privacy settings page AND as "inline privacy controls" below the Facebook status update box so you can change it for individual posts.

Click the "edit" button at far right next to "Who can see my stuff?" in order to change your default sharing setting and keep your posts more private. Again, your options are:

  • The globe stands for "Public," which means anyone can see something.
  • The silhouette of two heads is for "Friends", which means only your friends can see something.
  • Another heads silhouette is for "Friends Except Acquaintances," which allows you to exclude certain contacts, namely, those you have manually added to a special list called "Acquaintances." But if you have not edited your "acquaintances" list, this setting will effectively be the same as "Friends."
  • The gear stands for "Custom," which means you can customize who sees something by adding a list of approved viewers or a list of people you want to block from seeing it.

    Most people will want to choose "Friends," which is NOT the default that Facebook typically sets here. Facebook sets this by default to "Public." Keeping Facebook's default would mean that if you forget to change the inline audience selector (also known as "inline" privacy or sharing controls) when you post a status update or uploaded a photo, by default it will be public or viewable by anyone, not just your friends.

    It's highly recommended that you change this default setting to "Friends" so only your Facebook friends can see what you're posting. That will save you time in the long run because you won't have to change the audience selector setting to "Friends" every time you post something.

    Just to be clear: When you're using Facebook's website to post anything, you can always override this default by using the inline privacy menu (see the next page for a picture of them) appearing directly below the status box.

    These default privacy settings on Facebook have been the subject of much controversy and various legal actions, as detailed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center's Facebook privacy page.

Additional Facebook Privacy Settings

Privacy controls appear for additional Facebook areas or features on the main privacy settings page shown above. You access each by clicking "Edit Settings" to the far right of its name. Below is an explanation of what each does. The first ("How You Connect") is one of the most important.

  1. HOW YOU CONNECT -- This option contains five key settings for controlling how people can find and communicate with you on Facebook and who is allowed to post and see items your Wall/Timeline.

    Connecting Default: Let Everyone Find and Contact You

    When you click "Edit settings," you'll see a list of three ways people can connect with you on Facebook -- by looking up your email address or name, sending a friend request or a direct Facebook message.

    Your options are a bit different from those in the inline privacy control menu, and one is the same but worded differently. Here, "Everyone" is used in place of "Public" but means the same thing. Choosing "Everyone" will allow anyone to see something or contact you using that particular method, even if they are not on your friend's list.

    By default, Facebook sets these first three connection options to "Everyone," which means your basic profile information (real name, Facebook username, profile photo, gender, networks to which you belong, and Facebook user ID) will be visible to all Facebook users and the general public. Also by default, everyone can send you a friend request or direct message.

    If you want, you can change each of these settings to "Friends" or "Friends of Friends" instead of "Everyone." Just be advised that limiting who can see your real name, photo and other general info about you likely will make it harder for others using Facebook to find you in order to send you a friend request. It's not a bad idea to leave these first three options (email contact, friend requests and direct messaging) set to "Everyone."

    Wall Default: Let Only Your Friends Post and See Items on Your Wall

    The last two options listed control who is allowed to post on your Facebook Wall/Timeline and see what other people post on your Wall. By default, Facebook sets the first--who can post to your Wall-- to "Friends," meaning only your friends will be able to post there. The default setting for who can see posts on your Wall is "Friends of Friends," which means if your friends post something there, their friends can see it, too.

    To get the most out of Facebook's sharing tools, it's recommended that you leave these Wall settings alone.

    The alternative is to do less sharing. You could, for example, change "Friends of Friends" to just "Friends" if you don't want your friends' friends seeing anything on your Wall. And if you want to be extremely private, you could click "Only Me" for both of these default Wall settings. But that would basically prevent anyone from putting anything on your wall and only allow you to post stuff there.

    If you're confused about what goes on your Wall/Timeline, this article explains the key differences between your personalized News Feed and Profile/Timeline page.

  2. TAGS and TAGGING -- Tags are an important feature to understand and control on Facebook. Tags are basically a way that people can label any photo or post with your name, which makes that photo or post appear in various news feeds and search results for your name. Think of a tag as a name label, and here is where you control how your name label is used. Also, this is where you control whether your friends can check you into any Place on Facebook, which may signal to people things about your whereabouts that you really don't want to publicize.

    By Default, Your Tag Controls Are Set to "Off": You Should Change Them

    If you are privacy conscious, it's a good idea to change four out of your five possible setting for tags from "off" to "on."

    This won't prevent people from tagging photos or posts with your name but will let you review anything tagged with your name before it appears on your Wall or in news feeds. For example, if someone posts a photo and tags you as being in it, that fact won't be broadcast in a news feed unless and until you approve it.

    The middle of these five tag settings is set by default to "Friends," and it governs who can see posts and photos that have been tagged with your name. You have a lot of options here, including the previously discussed "Custom" option which lets you restrict this to being seen by a select group of friends or by all your friends except a select group you have blocked.

    The final setting here is another "on" / "off" choice, and it says "Friends can check you into Places using the mobile Places app." It's a very good idea to change that to "Off," especially if you don't want your friends broadcasting your whereabouts to all kinds of people on Facebook.

    Your Next Three Privacy Settings:

  3. APPS and WEBSITES -- These are a complicated, detailed set of controls that govern how the gazillion independent Facebook apps that use the social network and other websites connected to Facebook are allowed to use your personal data. It's also where you control how your Facebook profile appears in public search engines like Google. Because they are c important, details of these apps'
  4. PAST POSTS -- This is where you can make a global change on the sharing setting for ALL your previous status updates, photos and posts. Clicking on this option (where it says "Manage Past post visibility" on the right) basically, limits everything you have ever posted to be seen only by your Facebook friends. If you previously made a ton of photo albums public, for example, or had your default sharing options set to "Everyone" for a while, this is a quick way to restrict all your previously publicly shared material to be viewed now by only your friends.

    Alternatively, you can scroll back through your profile page timeline or wall and individually change privacy/sharing options for each particular item. Just be advised, if you click this "past posts" option here, you'll make all your past posts viewable only to friends, and you can't undo this change once you've done it. So if, for example, you previously made a bunch of restricted friends lists and posted some photos that only could be seen by that select group of friends, if you click this option here you'll be letting ALL your friends see that previously restricted material on your Facebook timeline or wall.

  5. BLOCKED PEOPLE AND APPS -- This is where you can create a special list of people whom you've friended on Facebook but do NOT want to see material you post to your regular Facebook friends. It's called your "restricted list" on Facebook, and it lets you basically friend people without really friending them. It's a useful tool for managing friend requests from the boss or business associates, for example.

    Since Facebook doesn't tell anyone who's on your restricted list, these people don't know they are not seeing what you post to your friends. They only see what you post to the "Public" or to "everyone." So it's a good idea to occasionally make some public posts, which will make these "restricted friends" at least feel like they are connected to you.

Next Up: How to Control Your Privacy in Search Results and Facebook Apps

Click "Next" below to read more about controlling how your personal Facebook information is shared with other apps and search engines.

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Controlling Your Facebook Profile Privacy in Search Results and Apps

Facebook privacy apps page
This is the page for controlling the privacy settings for your Facebook apps and websites connected to Facebook, including Google and other search engines.

The screen shot above shows the page where you can set a lot of different options giving you granular control over how your personal Facebook information is shared with other apps and search engines.

You can always find this page by clicking on "privacy settings" in the pull-down menu in the top right corner of most Facebook pages. Scroll down the page containing your main privacy menu and click on the middle option, which is called "apps and websites."

The second and fourth options shown in the image above are probably the ones most worth changing on this page.

Option 2: What Info Your Friends Can use in Their Apps

This is the option that says "How people bring your info to apps they use." If you click "edit settings" to the left of it, you'll see a TON of specific information about you that you can change the visibility on. Uncheck any items you don't want your friends to use in their Facebook apps.

Option 4: Public Search

This important setting is hard to find on Facebook because it's buried at the bottom of the page governing privacy controls for Facebook apps and other websites. In this case, it appears Facebook considers search engines "other websites."

Google is the most popular search engine, so this is where you control whether your Facebook profile is indexed in Google, and therefore whether your Facebook profile will come up in the results people run on Google for your name.

When you click "Edit Settings" to the left of the "Public Search" option, a page pops up that has a checkbox labeled "Enable public search." By default, it is checked, making your Facebook profile visible to Web-based public search engines like Google and Bing. Uncheck this "Enable public search" box if you want your Facebook profile to be invisible to Google and other search engines.

If your privacy concerns grow to be a big headache, you could always consider deactivating Facebook, at least for a while. This article explains how to deactivate your Facebook account.

You should also learn more about staying safe everywhere you go on the Web, not just Facebook.