Privacy concerns and privacy controls on Facebook are ever changing. When you post a picture of your kids at a family gathering, which one of your Facebook friends can share it? What private information are those Facebook game apps collecting on you for "third-party uses"? How do you make sure that live video stream is seen only by people you choose? Every action you take on Facebook has privacy and sharing implications that need to be considered before you upload that next selfie.
Fortunately, thanks to vocal demands for transparency from both Facebook users and government regulators around the world, Facebook has been making the process of managing your privacy easier. Below is our step-by-step guide to taking full control of your Facebook privacy settings.
The basic privacy options
If you’re not ready to dive into Facebook’s substantial settings menu, there’s a more user-friendly guide through the more vital privacy settings. Click on the question mark symbol in the top right of any Facebook page when you’re logged in, and select Privacy Checkup, an easy-to-follow walkthrough of your current settings as they pertain to Posts, Apps and Websites, and Profile.
(Alternately, for an even quicker speed-tuneup, you can adjust who can see your posts, send you friend requests, or block users by hitting the question mark symbol and selecting Privacy shortcuts.)
Starting with Posts, you can check your default sharing setting. (You'll find this under Settings > Privacy > Your Activity > Who can see future posts, if you're not going through the Privacy Checkup.) We recommend the Friends setting over the Public one. When set to Public all your posts can be seen by anyone on or off Facebook. Unless you're a celebrity or running a page that is used to generate interest in a business you run, you will likely want to keep your activity restricted to those you have Friended.
The Friend setting has a few tweaks you should be aware of as well. By clicking on the triple dots, the sharing setting button, then the More Options button, you will see the Custom option. Click on that, and you will see that you can include all your Friends while excluding the names of certain Facebook friends you don't want to see your updates. It is also important to note that the Friends of anyone tagged in your post or photos will be able to see that post unless you uncheck the option in this window.
If you have joined any Facebook groups or made lists of Facebook friends, you can restrict the posts that way or hide your posts from those groups and lists as well. Want just your college friends to see your late night party pictures? Want to make sure your work friends don't see your selfie at the beach when you called in sick? These restrictions could come in handy both on a per post basis or as an overall option. You can even go back to change settings of previous posts by clicking on the selecting Limit Past Posts.
Finally, remember that you can change the sharing settings of any individual Facebook update by clicking on the triple dots, then sharing button to the left of the Post button.
Here you can see the privacy setting on your phone number, email addresses, birthday, hometown, relationship status, and other personal details about your life. Under emails, it will show all email addresses associated with your account and who can view them. If you find an email address that you don't want associated with your account, you can delete it. After completing the Privacy Checkup, go to Settings > General > General Account Settings in Settings, you can add and remove email addresses and change your primary email address.
For your birthday, the sharing settings are split between the day/month and the year. That way your Friends can wish you happy birthday on Facebook on your special day without necessarily knowing your exact age.
For hometown, this setting only affects what your Friends can see. Advertisers and others may still access this information, especially if you are using the Facebook app, which tracks your location automatically.
Finally, if you have set a relationship with another Facebook user, it will be shared unless you set it otherwise.
It's important to note that this is only a partial list of the information you're sharing. To see the full list, click the My About Page button, which will take you to your profile page. On there, you can review the various sections—Work and Education, Places You've Lived, Contact and Basic Info, Family and Relationships, Details About You, and Life Events —and make changes hovering over each and clicking the link that appears.
Apps and Websites
Remember the Facebook game you played too much last year? Each app on the site you agreed to install has permission to post to your Friends list unless you told it otherwise at the time you installed it. Can't remember? This part of the tool shows you each app attached to your account and what sharing permissions it has. These settings also control who can see that you have the app installed.
If you don't use the app anymore, just delete it by clicking on the box next to it and select Remove. Delete all apps that you're not actively using and review the sharing permissions of the remaining ones.
To get to the advanced privacy settings, click the drop down arrow in the top right on any Facebook page, click Settings, and then Privacy in the left navigation column.
Here you can exert more control of what is being shared with whom, which is never a bad idea. You've likely gone through this at least once in the past, but it's a great idea to review your settings at least once a year.
Who can see my stuff? (Find out in Your Activity)
Who can see your future posts?
Select Edit and you can take complete control over who sees your posts. Use the predefined categories, like Friends and Friends of friends, or create a custom group.
Review all your posts and things you're tagged in
Ever been tagged in an embarrassing photo uploaded by that distant college classmate? You can use the Activity Log page and select the Posts You're Tagged In (in the left column) and the Photos > Photos of You (also in the left column) to check out what you've been tagged in. You can then remove the tag (click the drop-down arrow on the left of the post or photo and then click on the the Remove Tag button at the top of the page) or simply click Hide so they don’t appear on your Timeline.
Limit the audience for posts you've shared with friends of friends or Public?
If you select Limit Past Posts, all your previous posts from Public or Friends of friends will revert to just Friends. But if you've tagged a Friend in one of your posts, their Friends can see that since that is the default setting when tagging someone.
If you originally shared a post with a custom audience, like Close Friends, this tool will not change the audience for those posts.
How people find and contact you
Who can send you friend requests?
The default is Everybody, and the only other choice is Friends of Friends.
Who can see your friends list?
The default is Public, but you can customize who can see the list, including setting it to Only me.
Who can look me up?
Who can you look you up with the email address you provided?
If someone has your email address they can look you up, but only if your email is Public. You can restrict it to Friends of Friends or just Friends if you don't want to be bothered.
Who can look you up using the phone number you provided?
Same as the email address.
Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?
Your first impulse may be to turn this off, but Facebook only allows information you've marked as Public to be shown to other search engines. They see it as a way for friends not on Facebook to find you. Whatever you choose, anyone will still be able to find your profile simply by looking up your name in Facebook search.
Access Your Information to review all of your Facebook actions
Here's where you can keep tabs on everything you've ever done on Facebook. Select Access Your Information and you'll see a large list of types of activities for easy access to see what you've done. For instance, read through all of your Comments on your posts, other people's posts, or in Groups you belong to. Scroll through Likes and Reactions to see posts, comments and Pages you've liked or reactive to and edit those actions. Review Photos and Videos you've shared or been tagged in and report the photo or remove the tag. See all of you Saved Items and read them, mark them as read or delete them. See a list of Event invitations you've received and responded to, and edit your response.
In the section entitled Activity Log, you can scroll through all of your activities chronologically to view, edit and delete them. You can also see what the audience is for your activity, for instance is that comment seen by the person's friends, friends of friends or public.
Manage how your Off-Facebook Activity is tracked
Facebook receives data from third parties when we visit sites or use apps that use Facebook's tools for tracking activities, including making purchases and logging in. Tracking your activity across the internet gives Facebook a fairly clear picture of your day-to-day activities, which it uses to serve ads and recommend content it thinks you’ll like. To manage your Off-Facebook Activity, select Off-Facebook Activity and then Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity. Once you've input your Facebook password, you can see a list of every site and app that’s shared information with Facebook. Click on any site and select “turn off future activity” to stop it from adding data to your Facebook profile.
Timeline and tagging Options
In Timeline and Tagging you can control exactly who sees what on your timeline, who can post to your timeline, and who can tag you in photos and posts.
To customize your timeline settings, click on the down arrow in the far upper right corner to reveal a drop-down menu, and select Settings.
What people can see and add to my timeline
Who can post on your timeline?
It's set by default to Friends, and the only other option is to allow only yourself to post on your timeline.
Who can see what others post on your timeline?
You have flexibility with options ranging from Everyone to Friends of Friends to custom lists. Using this in conjunction with manually approving what photos and updates you've been tagged in goes a long way to keep prying eyes away from more sensitive Facebook updates.
Allow others to share your posts to their stories?
Facebook defaults to allowing anyone to share your Public posts to their story. And if you tag someone in a post, they can share it to their story. In both cases, your full name and a link to your post will be visible for 24 hours. If you don't want others to be able to share your posts, Disable this option.
Hide comments containing certain words from your timeline
If you're concerned about certain words appearing in comments on your timeline, you can establish a word, phrase and emoji blacklist. Comments that contain banned content will only be able to be seen by the poster and their friends.
Who can see posts that you're tagged in?
Who can see posts you're tagged in on your timeline?
You have a great deal of flexibility here, with options ranging from Everyone to Friends of Friends to custom lists. Using this and the below setting in conjunction with manually approving what photos and updates you've been tagged in goes a long way to keep prying eyes away from more sensitive Facebook updates.
When you're tagged in a post, who do you want to add to the audience if they aren't already in it?
This one sounds more complicated than it is. Often a Facebook friend of yours will make a post and tag you in it. The option here allows all of your Facebook friends to see an update or photo you've been tagged in by someone they aren't friends with themselves (the Friends of Friends function). You can choose to remain tagged but have none of your other Facebook friends see that update, limit who sees that update to certain groups of friends, or you can outright block certain Facebook friends altogether by using the Custom option.
Manually review other people's posts you're tagged in and tags before they appear on Facebook
Review posts you're tagged in before the post appears in your timeline
If you are concerned about getting tagged in a photo that you don't want all your friends on Facebook to see, this is the setting for you. Once enabled, you'll have to manually approve any photo or posts you are tagged in before they appear on your timeline. Note that this only affects your timeline; those updates will still appear in searches, the news feed, and other places unless you un-tag yourself. (Alternately, you can extricate yourself from incriminating posts by clicking on the offending post, then the arrow in the top right to Remove Tag.)
Review tags people add to your own posts before the tags appear on Facebook?
This applies only to photo tagging by your Facebook friends. You'll always be notified if someone who's not your friend tags you in a photo.
What do my posts look like to other people?
Review what other people see on your Timeline.
Click View As for the perfect way to check that your mother or boss won't see what you don't want them to.
If you want to take steps to keep people away from your profile, the "Blocking" is the section for you.
If you don't want to un-friend somebody but also don't want them to see all of your information, you can add them to the Restricted List. This means they can see your public information, but they have no way of knowing you’ve limited their view (unless they happen to see someone browsing your profile who isn't restricted).
You can also just straight up block somebody. This means this person cannot be your friend. This is an excellent setting if you have stalkers or other people consistently bothering you. Note that this does not stop them from interacting with you in apps, games, or groups you're both a part of.
Block messages If you’re receiving unwelcome messages and video calls from someone, you can put a stop to that here – and it carries over to the Messenger app too. However, the pest in question will still be able to post to your Timeline unless you block them as a user (above).
Block app invites
In addition to blocking and restricting people from your profile, you can also block app invitations on a user-by-user basis. So if your Aunt Jackie keeps bombarding you with annoying apps, you know what to do.
Block event invites
Tired of your nephew inviting you to his New York City raves every weekend? Typing the name of the Facebook user into this section will stop you from seeing any future event invites from that person.
Some apps and Facebook games are great fun at first, but after a while, you want to drop them. You can remove the app or game (see the Apps you use section, below) or block the app, which means it can no longer contact you or get non-public information about you through Facebook. If you are getting emails from the app, you will have to use the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email.
Is that discount fashion site you liked bombarding you with updates from its Facebook Page? Block ‘em here, where you’ll also automatically unlike and unfollow the Page. You can also block other Pages (i.e., public pages for businesses and celebrities) from commenting on or liking your posts.
Turn off face recognition
Facebook uses face-matching technology to suggest who you should tag in photos, prevent strangers from using a photo of you as their profile photo, and let you know when you might appear ina photo or video but haven't been tagged (if you're in the audience). It will only suggest people that are on the user's friends list. If you don't want to show up as an option when your friends are tagging photos, set this to No.
Public post filters and tools
If you’re lucky enough to have people hanging off your every post, you can decide to widen your net of followers here. Friends follow by default, but you can change it to the only other option - let Everyone view your public posts (you can set public-ness each time you post).
Check on apps and websites you've logged into with Facebook
Here you can find out which apps and sites you've logged into with Facebook. The important tab is the Active tab, which means these apps and sites currently have access to whatever data you opted into providing. Click on the box beside any app or site that you are no longer interested in accessing and then click Remove. For the rest, click on View and edit for each one to check on what information you're sharing and update your sharing preferences.
If you're not interested in using Facebook to connect with outside apps and sites, you can scroll down to Preferences and click on the Edit button in the Apps, Websites and Games box to turn off access.
Check on Instant Games you've logged into with Facebook
Like with Apps and Websites, you can see which Instant Games you're logged into with Facebook and check on what you've agreed to share.
Find out what is determining the ads you see
Facebook compiles a list of your interests based on your activity on Facebook and your engagement with Pages hosted by businesses and ads. These interests will determine what ads you see in your Newsfeed. You can delete any interests by selecting the interest and choosing Remove.
Advertisers and Businesses
Here you will find a list of advertisers who have uploaded a list with your information, who has advertised to you, whose website or app you've used, whose ads you've clicked or blocked and more.
For businesses who uploaded a list with your information and advertised to it, you can choose to Hide all ads from this advertiser. Facebook matched your profile with the advertiser's needs and showed the ad without revealing your identity.
For businesses who have uploaded and shared a list with your information, you can see how those businesses data resulted in ads shown. While you can see the businesses the uploaded the information, you can only choose to opt out of ads from advertisers who used the uploaded data.
For businesses whom you've visited, whose website or app you may have used, and whose ads you've clicked, you can choose to hide all ads from that advertiser.
Under About you, you can turn off whether details such as your relationship status, education level or job title can be used to target advertising to you. However, this does not stop Facebook from using this information to categorize your profile for advertisers, or from ads being shown.
Under Your categories, you can find out what descriptors that your activity on Facebook and outside has revealed about you. Most of my fields were related to factual items such as “WiFi Users”, though there were a couple of interesting deductions too, such as “Potential mobile network or device change”.
You can delete them all to start fresh, or if you want no interest-based ads on or off Facebook. Just click the X on the right of each item.
Ads based on data from partners
Nearly anywhere you click online, and in some cases where you shop in stores, is used to build a profile of you that Facebook can then sell to advertisers so they can show targeted ads to you while you’re browsing Facebook. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can choose Not allowed here. You’ll still see advertising on Facebook, it just won’t be based on all those running shoes you were looking up.
Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere
Since Facebook operates its own ad network of sites, it can also target you with ads even when you’re not browsing Facebook – essentially, at any site that uses its ad technology. But the permission is trickily worded – it asks if it can use your Facebook ad preferences, so choose Yes and make sure you review the section below entitled Ad Preferences. Even if you’ve always turned off targeted ads based on browsing (above), Facebook can use information in your profile to create ad preferences.
Regardless, you’ll most likely still receive targeted ads outside Facebook that are based on your age, gender, and location, as well as browsing activity on sites that are part of other ad networks. If you want to stop seeing-based ads in general, you can opt out at the Digital Advertising Alliance - though it notes that the opt-out can only apply to participating companies.
Ads that include your social actions
If you like, comment on or share a Page (say, owned by a business or brand), Facebook can broadcast it as an advertisement to all your friends.
This also applies to apps used (for example, Spotify) and events joined (say, if you hit attend for a café’s Veggie Fridays). You can flip the audience for all this between Only my friends and No One.
Hide ad topics
If you really don't want to see ads for specific types of products or categories of products, you can choose to hide them for six months, a year or permanently. If the topic you object to isn't one that Facebook had made available for censorship, you can click on Suggest Other Topics to let them know.
And that's Facebook Privacy in a (gigantic) nutshell
That covers your privacy setting options on Facebook. If you want to dig in even further, Facebook has a page explaining the basics of Facebook privacy tools as well as Facebook's latest data policies.
Updated on 4/27/2020
[shocked woman with laptop via Shutterstock, all other images via Facebook]