Facebook has more than a billion users who share photos, stream videos, and post status updates regarding their daily lives. Regardless of what you might think, however, that embarrassing St. Patrick’s Day photo of you in the green leprechaun hat may be public information. Facebook defines “public” information as any content available to a public audience – whether it be essential information such as your profile, gender, or username – along with any other content you choose to share with a public audience via your Timeline. And once public, anyone who isn’t a designated friend, people off of Facebook, and those viewing content through different media outlets (e.g., print, broadcast, other websites) can all visit your profile and view said content in a matter of seconds. Talk about life-ruining potential.
Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission claimed Facebook was actively deceiving users in 2012, and as a direct result of a subsequent settlement, Facebook users now must provide consent to future privacy setting changes. That said, the social networking giant doesn’t make it tough to bypass the privacy settings entirely. Many users unknowingly allow hordes of personal data to become public information by simply failing to read Facebook’s privacy updates. Doing so may be the first step in ensuring your data remains private, but it’s certainly not the last.
Here’s our basic guide on how to set Facebook privacy settings, so you can rest assured others only see what you want them to see. Also, check our top picks for the best Facebook games, and our simple guides on how to download Facebook photos and how to delete your Facebook profile.
Updated on 3-21-2014 by Joe Donovan and Brandon Widder.
Note: Everyone can view some of your information
Everyone can see your name, your profile photo, and the names of work and school networks you’re part of. Ditto for pages you are a fan of. If you are worried about a potential employer finding out about a quirky fetish or unorthodox political leaning, avoid becoming a Facebook fan of such groups. You can’t tell Facebook you don’t want those publicly listed. Your gender and current city are also available, if you choose to specify them. You can uncheck “Show my sex in my profile” when you edit your profile, if you don’t want it listed, and you can leave “Current City” blank.
Note: Facebook is equipped with various privacy levels
Facebook privacy is not a catch-all. The site boasts a slew of privacy levels pertaining to different content, whether it’s your friends lists, status updates, or photos. Users can adjust the privacy settings and limit profile access at any time, allowing greater specificity when choosing who can view selected content. Below are brief explanations of the common, four privacy tiers available within the audience selector when sharing most Facebook content.
- Everyone: Grants access to anyone on the Internet.
- Friends: Grants access to only those who are your friend on Facebook.
- Friends of Friends: Grants access to those who are your friend on Facebook, as well as their friends.
- Custom: Grants access to a selective audience of your choice, including specific people and networks.
Use the audience selector when posting
Believe it or not, tailoring the privacy of a Facebook post during publishing is both quick and hassle-free. The built-in audience selector allows users to specifically choose who they share their content with — regardless if the post is a link, photo, life event, check-in, or simple status update – directly within the posting box. Available audiences include friends, groups, and specific individuals, with an additional option for selecting only yourself. Moreover, the tool remembers the audience you last shared with, retaining the same audience until you change it.
To use the audience selector, craft your post as you would normally and click the drop-down menu, directly to the left of the blue Post button. Afterward, select the desired audience for the post and click the aforementioned Post button to publish.
Accessing the Privacy Settings and Tools panel
Facebook’s various privacy controls are available through various avenues. However, the Privacy Settings and Tools panel allows users to restrict access to future posts and personal contact information, along with who can look them up via their provided email address and phone number. Moreover, the settings panel is accessible at any time, so long as Facebook is properly operating.
To access your privacy and tools settings, click the subtle lock icon in the upper-right corner of the main Facebook toolbar. Afterward, click one of the three specific privacy shortcuts within the resulting drop-down menu, or simply click the blue See More Settings link at the bottom.
Adjusting Timeline and tagging settings
Any Facebook user knows the social networking site lives and breathes in Timeline and tagging – they’re also one of the site’s biggest cruxes when it comes to privacy. Thankfully, Facebook users can quickly adjust who can and cannot post on their Timeline, ensuring your page consists of posts from friends whom you trust. Facebook even allows users to control who can see posts you’ve been tagged in, along with who can see what others post on your Timeline.
To control who can post on your Timeline, click the blue Edit link beside Who can add things to my Timeline? Then, select either Friends or Only Me from the resulting drop-down list.
To control who can see things on your Timeline, click either the blue Who can see posts you’ve been tagged in on your tagline or Who can see what others post on your Timeline. Afterward, select your desired audience from the resulting drop-down menu.
Adjusting who can look you up
The aforementioned Privacy Settings and Tools panel contains a section labeled, Who can look me up, located at the bottom of the page. Here, you can control who can see your profile on Web searches and make refinements regarding who can look you up, once that person has logged in.
If you’d rather not have your profile pop up when someone looks up your name on a search engine like Google, uncheck the box directly beside Let other search engines link to your timeline at the bottom of panel. Now, information that Facebook deems publicly available – such as photos, fan pages, and list of friends – along with anything else you have made available to everyone, will no longer show up when someone looks up your name on a search engine.
To refine who can look you up using your provided email address and phone number, click the blue Edit link to the right of either option. Afterward, review and adjust the various privacy components as you see fit, adhering to the aforementioned privacy levels, and allow Facebook to automatically save the changes when finished.
Adjusting who can see your stuff
The aforementioned Privacy Settings and Tools panel contains a section labeled, Who can see my stuff, located at the top of the page. Here, you can choose a default setting for your audience selector, review all your posts and those you’ve been tagged in, and even limit old posts strictly to friends. Although the latter option is a one-click feature designed to simultaneously change all past posts to friends, users will have to change each post individually if they want to reverse the process.
To choose a default setting for the audience selector, click the blue Edit link beside Who can see my stuff? Afterward, choose your desired audience from the resulting drop-down menu.
To individually review and make edits to past posts, click the blue Use Activity Log link beside Review all your posts and things you’re tagged in. Afterward, scroll through the resulting log and click the blue pencil to make changes to the varying types of content. The same changes can be made when viewing the post or action elsewhere on the site, but the Activity Log consolidates all your interactions into a single location.
To limit old posts, click the blue Limit Past Posts link beside Limit the Audience for Old Posts on Your Timeline. Then, click the gray Limit Past Posts button below the warning text.
Adjusting who can send you friend requests and messages
The aforementioned Privacy Settings and Tools panel contains a section labeled, Who can contact me, located in the middle of the page. Here, you can control basic filtering option for your inbox and specify who can send you friend requests. The default settings allow everyone to send you friend requests and let most messages through, but users you’re not connected to can always pay to ensure their message is routed back to your inbox, as opposed to the Other folder.
To change who can send you friend requests, click the blue Edit link beside Who can send you friend requests? Afterward, select either Everyone or Friends of Friends from the resulting drop-down list.
To change Inbox filtering, click the blue Edit link beside Whose messages do I want filtered in my Inbox? Afterward, select either Basic Filtering or Strict Filtering from the resulting drop-down list. Both options will help filter messages from people not connected to you, whether friends of friends or complete strangers, with the latter option encompassing a wider swath of messages.