The Inside Facebook Guide to Protecting Your Privacy on Facebook

privacylockNow that everyone from family to colleagues are connecting on Facebook, how do you continue sharing freely while maintaining your privacy and reputation in the years to come?

Facebook allows users to customize their privacy settings at a granular level, but a surprisingly low percentage of users actively manage their privacy settings. Many users who complain about the lack of privacy on Facebook aren’t even aware of the privacy configurations available to them. Below, Inside Facebook guides you through all the steps you need to know to protect your privacy on Facebook.

1. Segmenting Your Friends

friend-listsClicking on “Friends” in the top menu of any page brings you to the new Friends page where you can create Friend Lists. Lists can be organized by geographic area, relationship type, etc. – however you like. They will come in handy when managing your privacy settings.

As you’ll see, the most effective lists are created for two main groups of friends: those you plan on being completely transparent with and those you want to share information with at a minimum level.

2. Your Privacy Settings Dashboard

To access your Facebook privacy settings, click on “Settings” on the top menu bar and then choose “Privacy Settings” in the resulting drop-down. You’ll be taken to a page where you see the following menu of privacy options:


3. Choosing Privacy Settings for Your Wall

Your Facebook Wall contains lots of personal information about you, so it’s important to think through who you want to give access to.

A friend of mine completely disabled her Wall after her friend wrote a Wall post alluding to a job transition that she had not yet announced. While shutting down your Wall (select “Only Me”) is an option, you can also avoid this risky situation in a less dramatic way, simply exclude particular Friend Lists from viewing your Wall. Below, I’ve allowed all my friends to see my Wall, except those on my Work list:


4. Choosing Privacy Settings for Photos

Similarly, say you’re sensitive about pictures that you’re tagged in, but feel comfortable allowing a subset of your friends to view them, you can also make that happen. Here, only friends in my Besties list have access to my tagged pictures.


The above setting only applies to pictures you’re tagged in, not to photo albums you may have created. To edit these, visit the Photos tab of your Profile and click on the link “Album Privacy” toward the bottom.

When in doubt, you can always view your own Profile from any friend’s perspective. You can also block a friend: this is equivalent to temporarily removing them.

5. Choosing What Kinds of News Feed Stories People Can See About You

You can determine which of your actions get published to the News Feed and your own Wall by tailoring your Recent Activity settings. With Facebook’s new open stream API, it makes more sense to let your Wall posts to friends appear in mutual friends’ News Feeds, while broadcasting a change in relationship status may be less preferable.


6. Choosing Whether You Want To Appear in Facebook’s Social Ads

In addition, you can choose whether or not you want to appear in Social Ads, Facebook’s ads that show your friends which ads you’ve interacted with. Do you want your friends to know that you’re a fan of Cuddling? You may want to think about it.

7. Choosing Who Can See Which Fields on Your Profile’s Info Tab

Within the Profile Privacy settings, the following fields in the Info tab of your Profile are within your control:


You can choose who can see each of these fields on your Profile based on Friend Lists, just like you can the Wall. Don’t want people you met at conferences or parties to know your phone number? Only allow it to be visible to best friends.

8. Choosing How You Want to Appear in Facebook Searches

The Search privacy settings section is where you can make sure that you’re comfortable with how people search for you, both inside and outside of Facebook. Within Facebook, either everyone, mutual friends, or only friends can search for you, depending on how you configure your search settings. You can then decide what pieces of information you want to be included in your search results (picture, friends, links to add you as a friend/send a message, and Pages that you’re a fan of).


9. Choosing How You Want to Appear in Google Searches

Outside of Facebook, you can give Facebook permission to create a public search listing of your Profile, or you can opt out of this by simply un-checking the “Create a public search listing for me” box.

Many users don’t know that this box is automatically checked, meaning that a limited version of your available is indexed in Google’s search engine – the implication being that anyone can crawl your name, profile photo, and other basic information about you like Pages you’re a fan of on Facebook.


10. Choosing Application Privacy Settings

Facebook does a good job of making it clear whenever you’re authorizing applications to access your personal information. You’ll always be given a prompt to choose whether or not you want to allow an application to have access to your Profile.

To change your application settings, find the Applications start menu at the lower left corner and click “Edit.” For each application, you can permit (or prohibit) the application to access data/send emails/publish one-line stories to your Wall, as well as who can see the application on your Profile if you choose to display it as a box or tab.



As Facebook becomes a site where friends, family, and colleagues all come together, users’ willingness to share and be open with each other will depend on how knowledgeable users are about their privacy rights on Facebook, and how diligent they are about actively managing their privacy settings. People often complain that there’s no privacy on Facebook, but this is only true for users who aren’t aware of the privacy configurations available to them.

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Leave a Reply

18 Responses to “The Inside Facebook Guide to Protecting Your Privacy on Facebook”

  1. ts says:

    Given the changes that de-facto made the Wall the profile, I think only one setting for the wall is entirely inappropriate. Like in chat, there needs to be itemized list-based/friend-based control of who sees which wall item/link/etc. And there needs to be a default(!) setting that all application respect and not just facebook applications like photo and video. Paramount, and Twitter-killing ;)

  2. Protecting Your Privacy on Facebook « Bruce Eric says:

    [...] a comment » I just came across this post on Inside Facebook on how one can protect their privacy on Facebook. I’ve always been amazed at people that put [...]

  3. Eduardo says:

    RE #3: If I were to exclude a particular Friend List from viewing my Wall, does this mean its members can’t view updates on my Home Page feed as well? I think that makes sense.

  4. Managing Facebook as a Mental Health Professional | Dr. Keely Kolmes says:

    [...] enjoy the benefits of Facebook while still protecting your clients and your practice. There are a couple of great resources that provide step-by-step walk-throughs in setting up your privacy settings on [...]

  5. Greg Hazel says:

    Ok, so that shows how to leave Photos and Videos Tagged of You off your profile page. What about Notes?

  6. N. Criss says:

    Facebook’s settings fall flat in one big way:

    Item #1 in this article is “Segmenting Your Friends”.

    To me that implies that after you sort your friends into groups you can “firewall” them such that you can richly interact with ALL of them (i.e. they can ALL access your wall), but they can’t see activity from friends that are not in the same group. Just like in real life: you share LOTS of info with EVERY social circle you have, just not the SAME information.

    As you go on to describe, however, that’s not really possible. You have to pick some groups that have access and some who don’t. All or nothing.

    My impression is that this is not an oversight but rather by-design. Facebook wants to give the impression of caring about privacy, all the while coaxing us to reveal everything to everyone.

  7. :: blog » Facebook data retention says:

    [...] After MySpace, let’s see how Facebook holds up in the eternal all your data are belong to us competition. My pronostic would be “not so good”.With regards to Facebook privacy, Bruce Schneier has some interesting links on his blog about Facebook’s privacy settings: Ten privacy settings every Facebook user should know Protecting your privacy on Facebook [...]

  8. Privacy Lives » Blog Archive » Bruce Schneier: Facebook should compete on privacy, not hide it away says:

    [...] settings were often confusing and hard to access; Facebook, with its 61 privacy settings, is the worst. [...]

  9. Facebook privacy « Web I/O says:

    [...] 3. Ways to secure your Facebook profiles and personal information posted: 4. Media coverage of Facebook privacy policies: [...]

  10. Bruce Schneier – CRYPTO-GRAM, August 15, 2009 | yon Leveron blog says:

    [...] [...]

  11. G says:

    I love this article! Thanks for the tips. I am a teen writer at which is a parenting blog from the kid’s perspective there are 60 teen and tween writers run by teen author, Vanessa Van Petten. We just posted a video of “How to set Privacy Settings in Social Networks” here:

    and would love for you to check it out and tell us what you think or repost if you like it,

    Cheers, thanks for checking it out!

    G and the Teen Team

  12. Cum reusesti sa cunosti mai bine pe cineva: face to face sau intrand pe pagina lui de Facebook | FocusBlog says:

    [...] In primul rand, desi titlul prezentarii a fost “Social Networks and Private Life”, in fapt, majoritatea exemplelor au acoperit doar Facebook, care este un caz particular. De ce este Facebook un caz particular? Pentru ca toata lumea stie ca Facebook sta cel mai prost la protejarea datelor utilizatorilor dintre toate retelele sociale din lume. Joseph Bonneau and Soeren Preibusch of Cambridge University have been studying privacy on 45 popular social networking sites around the world. (You may not have realised that there are 45 popular social networking sites around the world.) They found that privacy settings were often confusing and hard to access; Facebook, with its 61 privacy settings, is the worst. [...]

  13. Protect Your Facebook | Honors Technology says:

    [...] You wouldn’t conciously give your purse or wallet to a thief, so why should you give it to malicious users online?  Know your privacy settings and who you can access your information to protect yourself.  An overview of your privacy settings for Facebook can be found here. [...]

  14. Privacy Salience and Social Networking Sites « I Am Not A Rapper says:

    [...] settings were often confusing and hard to access; Facebook, with its 61 privacy settings, is the worst. To understand some of the settings, they had to create accounts with different settings so they [...]

  15. Castijo says:

    RE #5: How do you get to this step by step, because I cannot seem to find it?

  16. Craig says:

    Seems like with the recent privacy settings changes, the “news feed and wall” option under privacy is just flat out GONE. So now how do we do this?

  17. R.R. says:

    How do I make the photos tab available to the Limited profile I have on my friends list? I want them to view only certain albums and though I have changed Edit Album Privacy to include Limited profile for those particular albums, the photos tab is still not available to the limited profile people.

  18. Facebook should compete on privacy, not hide it away | Richard Hartley says:

    [...] settings were often confusing and hard to access; Facebook, with its 61 privacy settings, is the worst. To understand some of the settings, they had to create accounts with different settings so they [...]

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