Facebook Privacy Settings

Posted on Mar 24 2011 in Technology Q&A by

This post is part of a series titled, “Technology Q&A.” The series features questions related to technologyand the answers! Have a question? Send it to Tech@HEAV.org.

Q. How do I keep my Facebook information private so only certain people can see it?

A. You can adjust your account privacy in less than 10 minutes. Here’s how!

facebook_iconControlling How You Share

Facebook is all about sharing, but the privacy controls give you the power to decide what and how much you share. The settings you choose control which people and applications can see your information. You can share your information with friends, friends of friends, or everyone, and there are presets to help you do that. Or, if you prefer, you can customize your settings. The information you are about to read is available on Facebook, but they don’t really make it easy to find. That’s why I’m making it available here.

For this particular post, it will be much easier if you open a new tab for your Facebook account and follow along. Log in first and we’ll start with this link to your privacy settings.

Sharing on Facebook

SharingonFacebookThis section controls who can see all the content you post on a day-to-day basis (such as status updates, photos, and videos). It also includes some things you share about yourself (birthday and contact information) and content others share about you (comments on your posts and photos and videos you’ve been tagged in).

You can set these with one click, and your settings will apply to all the day-to-day content you post in the future. If you select “Customize settings” a full list of options are displayed so you can customize the control and privacy level for each setting.

Typically, the “Friends of Friends” setting will be OK, but if you are a deeply private person, I suggest you use “Friends Only.” There is one last option, seen here as “Recommended.” That is Facebook’s suggested setting to allow for some privacy, but at the same time having a lot of information open to the public. I do not suggest this setting since too much is left viewable by “Everyone” for it to be seen as “safe.”

Connecting on Facebook

I’m working backwards just a bit, so bear with me. Above the “Sharing” portion of the page is a link to “View Settings,” which tells how Facebook is currently sharing your basic information. This includes your name, profile picture, gender, networks, and username. This information is available to everyone by default because Facebook thinks this info is “essential” to help you connect with your friends and family:

  • Name and profile picture help friends recognize you.
  • Gender helps us describe you. (For example, “Add her as a friend.”)
  • Networks are open to everyone so network members can see who they will be sharing information with before they choose “Friends and Networks” for any privacy settings.

Other information in this section, including hometown, activities, and experiences, is also open to everyone by default so that it is easiest to connect with friends and “get the most out of your Facebook experience.” Again, these settings are completely customizable and you can change this default setting by clicking on “View Settings” and making the changes as necessary. Usually “Friends of Friends” is perfectly acceptable.

Apps and Websites

AppsIUseThis section controls what information is shared with websites and apps, including search engines. (Apps and websites you and your friends use already have access to your name, profile picture, gender, networks, friend list, user ID, username, and any other information you share with everyone.) You can view the apps you’ve been using, remove any you don’t want to use, or turn off all platform apps completely. Turning off platform apps means you won’t be able to use any platform apps or websites, and Facebook won’t share your information with them. The reason you want to keep this option in the back of your mind is that as your tastes change, you’ll want to go in and remove the unwanted or unused apps for the sake of ensuring your privacy.

Block Lists

While unsavory to consider, there have been times when you might not want an individual to see any information about you that is being shared by one of your friends. This section lets you block people from interacting with you or seeing your information on Facebook. You can also specify friends from whom you want to ignore app invites, and see a list of the specific apps that you’ve blocked from accessing your information and contacting you–very handy for those Farmville invites! ;)

Additional Controls

You can control who sees each and every post. Before you post a status update, link, or anything else, click the lock icon to choose who can see it. What you select will override your “Posts by me” setting, which acts as the default.


Another important feature is that y
ou can control who sees the photos and videos you’re tagged in, which appear on your profile. Keep in mind, the owner of a photo can still share that photo with people who aren’t your friends. If you don’t want your tag to appear, remove it from the photo or video itself. This will also prevent it from appearing on your profile.

Additional Information

Advertising Facebook says that they never share your personal information with their advertisers. That’s partially true, but they’ve recently had a few black eyes from changing options that left personal information vulnerable. Items such as phone number and address were available to some advertisers for a short time. Facebook’s ad targeting is purportedly done anonymously. If advertisers select a demographic to target for their ads, Facebook automatically matches those ads to the appropriate audience. Advertisers only receive anonymous data reports.

To make ads more relevant for you and your friends, some ads include social engagement features, such as the “Like” button, and provide social context, such as “Your Friend likes Fun Bun Bakery.”

If you like a company, and that company runs an ad on Facebook, they may pair your name and profile picture with the ad when your friends see that ad, in a News Feed-style story. This social context makes the ad more relevant to you and your friends. You can learn more here or visit their Help Center.

If You Make Your Information Available to Everyone…

If you have selected “Everyone,” your information–including your name, profile picture, gender, networks, and username–could be seen by anyone on the Internet. Please be aware that it will be visible to anyone viewing your profile, and apps and websites you and your friends use will be able to access it. You will also be searchable on standard Internet search engines such at Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.


“Public search” on the “Apps and Websites” page controls whether people who enter your name in a search engine will see a preview of your Facebook profile. It also controls whether things you’ve specifically chosen to share with everyone show up in searches on and off Facebook.

A Word to Parents: Protect Your Children

Facebook has always claimed that they are committed to protecting minors who use Facebook. Until their eighteenth birthday, minors don’t have public search listings created for them, and the visibility of their information is limited to friends of friends and networks, even if they’ve chosen to make it available to everyone. This does not apply to name, profile picture, gender, networks and username, which are visible to everyone so that real-world friends can recognize them.

As with any social network, prayerfully evaluate whether it is right for your children. If you opt to have them use it, stay interested and involved in your teen’s social activities. “Friend” them so that they see that you are involved and take the time to check out their profile. Whether they know it or not, they want you to keep them in line. :)

If you ever have any technology-related questions, please feel free to send them to tech@HEAV.org. We’d love to hear from you!

FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle+Blogger PostPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark