Facebook’s privacy settings are confusing by design, often hiding similar settings in totally different menus and defaulting to unnerving levels of public sharing. Ensuring that you share the right information with the right people can be difficult, and Facebook even has a few specialized settings that will override your other privacy settings if you aren’t careful. Luckily you can take control of your privacy on Facebook fairly quickly once you know what you’re looking for.
To that end we’ve assembled this quick guide to each part of Facebook’s Privacy Settings page (accessible via the menu that drops down when you select the downward arrow at the top right of your Facebook page). Following it should help you get your Facebook information locked down on the double. For each section of Facebook’s privacy settings, we provide a brief description of what to look for, along with notable settings that you’ll probably want to adjust. Click on any screenshot to zoom in for a close look at the different privacy settings on display.
Description: Your default privacy setting is the first thing you’ll see on your Privacy Settings page. It’s also the most important item on the page, since it controls who can and can’t see content that you post automatically. Facebook provides three options here: Public, which lets anyone see your new posts; Friends, which limits access to your content to people whom you’ve friended on Facebook; and Custom, which permits you to take a more granular approach to your privacy settings.
Notable settings: For many users, the Friends privacy setting should be perfectly acceptable, but you may want to experiment with Custom and familiarize yourself with the privacy customization menu–it’s the same one you’ll see across all of Facebook’s privacy pages. You can configure the Custom setting to make posts visible to specific people, to custom lists of people, or to any school/work networks that you might be a part of. I set my default privacy setting to include friends of my friends, though some users may consider that setting too open to sharing.
How You Connect
Description: These settings, which control who can view your personal information and who can contact you on Facebook, constitute what most users think of as their Facebook privacy settings. Clearly they’re among the most important privacy controls on the site.
Notable settings: All of the settings in the How You Connect section are significant. They determine who can send you a friend request on Facebook, who can message you on the service, and who can see your Timeline. They also control who can see your email address and phone number if you provide that data to Facebook. The settings are structured to give you the same Public, Friends, or Custom options as does the Default Privacy menu and most of them default either to ‘Everyone’ or to ‘Friends of Friends’, so you may want to configure them to be a little less permissive.
Timeline and Tagging
Description: This menu contains the bulk of your Timeline settings, including specifications for who can post on your timeline and who can see those posts. Bear in mind, however, that the actual controls for viewing your Timeline appear in the How You Connect section (see above).
Notable settings: Though the timeline settings are important, the two settings here that will be most useful to users involve Facebook automation. The first controls Facebook’s unsettling facial recognition feature (added last year). To disable that feature, set ‘Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?’ to no one; if you go this route, you and your friends will have to manually tag your face in photos. The second setting lets you review firends’ posts that you’ve been tagged in before the posting is approved. If you’ve ever worried that an embarrassing and clearly labeled photo might circulate on Facebook before you can detag it, set ‘Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline’ to enabled and worry no more.
Next: Settings for ads, apps, and websites
Ads, Apps, and Websites
Description: This section controls how your Facebook profile and personal information interact with things outside Facebook proper, including Facebook apps, personalized ads, and websites that use Facebook data to customize your experience. It’s also where the truly Orwellian stuff lives; if you’re worried about Facebook destroying your privacy, head here first and turn pretty much everything off.
Notable settings: Everything here is worth scrutinizing, especially the ‘Apps you use’ control panel. Here you can review and remove all of the third-party apps you’ve added to Facebook. Be warned, however, that you must remove (and confirm removal) of each app separately, unless you elect to delete them all, so the operation may take a while to complete. In the Ads settings, you can turn off social ads and preemptively opt out of having your data used in third-party advertising. This section also lets you turn off Facebook “features” such as instant personalization (which exports your personal data to partner websites) and public search (which allows users whom you haven’t friended to see your timeline through search engines, even if you’ve set your Timeline to be visible to friends only).
Limit the Audience for Past Posts
Description: This section is an anomaly on the Privacy Control page. Instead of popping up a new window of settings, Limit the Audience for Past Posts generates a small pop-up box with text explaining that, when you confirm that you want to limit the audience for your past posts, Facebook will automatically set all posts in your timeline to be visible only to friends. This will retroactively change the status of your previously public timeline posts to friends-only.
Notable settings: The Limit Old Posts option is the only setting here (besides Cancel), but it’s a doozy. Facebook frames it as a kind of nuclear option, but for most people it’s a convenient timesaver. Unless you prefer to leave most of your timeline public, activating this option and manually making a few posts public should take much less time than managing the privacy settings for Timeline posts individually.
Blocked People and Apps
Description: The Manage Blocking settings let you selectively block Facebook apps and users from interacting with you. They range from relatively benign settings that help deter an overzealous aunt from inviting you to try Farmville (without offending anyone) to a full global block to prevent abusive users from interacting with you in any way on Facebook. These settings are unlikley to be of much use for you when you first establish your privacy settings, but they may become more useful when friends or apps start spamming your Facebook feed.
Notable settings: The ‘Block users’ setting is a fantastic tool if you’re being harassed on Facebook and want to take care of the situation yourself. Preventing all interactions with a threatening person through Facebook is easy (be sure to report the harassment to Facebook as well); for most users, though, the less serious settings will be more useful. For example, do you have a friend who asks you to come to arts events every weekend? Simply enter the person’s name in the Block invites from field of the ‘Block event invites’ setting, and Facebook will automatically block any new event invitations from them. Similarly, adding a friend to your restricted list will ensure that thenceforth the person will be able to see only your public posts, effectively unfriending them without inviting any unpleasant histrionics.