Checking Your Facebook Privacy (Again)

The text "Facebook Privacy Policy Explained" followed by a drawing of a hand sticking up a middle finger

Last spring, I wrote a post outlining six steps for checking your Facebook privacy. These steps were developed during workshops that I had been teaching faculty and students at Emory on creating an academic web presence. While I (and most everyone here at ProfHacker) would suggest that sharing your work and being find-able on the web can have a salutory effect on your career (especially when you’re on the job market), not everyone feels that way–and especially about Facebook, where you likely have connected with friends and family who aren’t related to your daily work.

One of the tricky things about managing your Facebook privacy is that there are so many different choices to make. The service allows you granular control over almost everything you’re willing to share, but that also means you’re going have to make many, many choices. The other thing that is tricky about privacy on Facebook is that it frequently changes its privacy settings, to say nothing of its interface. As I’ve taught these workshops over the last two years, I’ve found that I have to change the Facebook portion every semester simply because they’ve put new options out there, and they’ve put them in new places.

So if it’s been 6, 12, or 24 months since you’ve last checked your Facebook settings, here are seven steps to making sure you’ve got everything the way you’d like it. (N.B. If you haven’t started using Timeline in Facebook, your screens will look a bit different.)

Finding Your Privacy Settings


The first thing you’ll want to do is check your basic “Privacy Settings” under the arrow in the upper right corner of the page.

The Steps


Here are the first six places where you’ll want to take a look at your settings.

Step 1: Controlling Your Profile Information


If you read the web like most people, you might skip right over this first paragraph. But perhaps the most important step for controlling what information you share with people lurks here. Click the “editing your timeline info” link, which will take you to the following “About” page.


This should be a very long page, listing work and education details, relationships, contact info, and more. You set privacy options for each step individually. First, click on the “Edit” button (in red) on each section. And then click on the little Faces icon (in green).


Doing this will give you a drop-down menu, where you choose who will be able to see this information about you. The basic choices are to make things completely public, to share them only with people you have friended, or to make them only visible to yourself (and, presumably, to Facebook’s advertising databases). But you can also make things visible to particular lists of friends.

That seems simple enough, but don’t forget that you need to look at every box on this page to make this choice. On my account, there are eight different boxes with the “Edit” button and many of them have multiple Faces icons. All told, I have 25 different places where I can set privacy levels on this page.


You might think that 25 different settings would be plenty. You’d be wrong. If you click the “About” at the top of the page, you’ll get a several other pages that you can move to. And there are privacy settings to be examined under most of them. Under “Friends,” for example, you can set who is able to see whom you are friends with. Under “Photos,” you must choose the privacy settings for each of your albums, one by one. And for the photos you’ve posted to your wall? You can set privacy for each individual photo. On your “Likes” page, you can adjust who is able to see your Likes in at least 12 different categories.

“Subscribers” is a relatively new category to Facebook. In short, it allows people with whom you are not friends to follow your public posts. Subscribers, then, are similar to followers on Twitter. On this menu, you can adjust who is allowed to see your subscribers, as well as a number of different rules for who is allowed to subscribe to you.

So this is Step 1. And by the time you’re done with it, you could have easily made 50 or more decisions about what you’re sharing with whom. And while it’s a lot of decisions to make, you really do want to look at each category before moving onto the next step. Make you way back to the “Privacy Settings” when you’re done with them all.

Step 2: Default Audience Selector


You might remember last summer when Google+ launched. One of the things that set G+ apart from Facebook was the ability to easily limit the people with whom you shared posts. Facebook quickly adopted something similar for status updates: its “inline audience selector.” But occasionally you might post to Facebook from an app that doesn’t support the audience selector. Under Step 2, then, you set the default level for status updates that come from such apps. And feel free to celebrate: there’s only one choice to be made in this step.

Step 3: How You Connect


For our third step (again, back on “Privacy Settings”), click “Edit Settings” under “How You Connect.”


You then have three choices to make how people will be able to find you and friend you on Facebook.

Step 4: Timeline and Tagging


If you thought things were getting simple, the fourth step will remind you that your working with Facebook. Click “Edit Settings” under Timeline and Tagging.


You’ll get a pop-up screen again, with a number of choice about who can post on your timeline (what usd to be known as writing on your wall) or see such posts. But when you click on the third, fifth, and sixth options, you’ll get a second pop-up explaining exactly what Facebook means by this feature.


While this extra information does help clarify what each setting governs, I’ll admit to getting a bit nervous when Mark Zuckerberg thinks he needs to put extra effort into explaining something to me.

Step 5: Ads, Apps, and Websites


In the fifth step, you’ll be adjusting your privacy within ads, apps, and websites.


Once again, you’ll be faced with a lot of different choices. While it’s useful to review the list of apps that you’ve given access to your account (and yes, each app has a separate control for who can see the actions it takes), I think the other four settings in step 5 are more critical.

The first of these asks you which of your information can be seen by the apps that your friends are using. The second controls whether or not Facebook’s partner websites (like Bing, Pandora, and Yelp) can get information about you from Facebook. (Facebook is so eager to get you to sign up for this that they’ll show you a video before letting you make your choice.) The third option will determine if a Google search on your name will return a preview of your Facebook profile. The fourth option will take you to a completely different page:


There are two settings to consider here, including one that governs what “might” be a future option for Facebook (!?).

Step 6: Limiting Your Past Posts’ Audience


The last step on the Privacy Settings page is a bit confusing. Before the inline audience selector (see step 2 above), your status updates could have been shared more widely without your being aware of it. You could have been posting publicly or sharing with friends of friends. (Since the average Facebook user has 130 friends, “friends of friends” potentially means you were sharing such posts with 16,900 people.)

This setting allows you to do a bulk edit on all these past status updates. With one click, you can limit their audience to just those who are your friends. This is especially useful since the new timeline interface makes it easier for people to find older content you contributed to Facebook. It is possible to go and edit the audience for each status update individually, but if you want to be sure, this option will fix it for you quickly.

Step 7: Check Your Work

Now that you’ve adjusted your privacy settings in the following six steps, it’s time to check your work. You will want to take a look at your profile through the eyes of someone else.


Click on your name in the upper right corner of your screen. This will take you to your timeline.


Click on the small gear just under your Cover photo and choose “View as….”


What you see now is how your timeline looks to those who are not your Facebook friends. If you see something here that you wouldn’t want non-friends to see, you’ll want to dive back into your privacy settings (most likely under Step 1) to make an adjustment.

You’re Done!

So that’s it. With these seven steps you’ve had a chance to consider what information you want to be accessible to others on Facebook. In comparing this post to the one I wrote last year, I think that Facebook has actually grown more complicated (if that was possible) for managing your privacy. And you can be sure that six months from now there will be one change or another. It wouldn’t hurt to make an appointment with yourself to check your settings every time we go on or off Daylight Savings.

As you might be able to tell from looking at the above images, I’ve chosen to make my Facebook activities very private. But that’s just me. What’s your preferred setting for your Facebook privacy? Do you use the platform for personal or professional relationships?

Lead Image: Facebook’s Privacy Policy Explained / weisunc / CC BY-SA 2.0


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