Online privacy expectations are evolving, but whether Facebook likes it or not, a lot of us want the privacy settings we signed up for when we joined the service. Here's how to use Facebook's new privacy controls to regain your original privacy.
Photo by Franco Bouly.
These days, Facebook seems seriously invested in a struggle to rule the entire internet, incorporating features from nearly every social service that pops up (see Twitter, Foursquare, FriendFeed, etc). The problem is, not every application fills the same niche, and in order to compete with other social tools, Facebook has slowly and surely changed from a primarily private service to a very public one.
Users have always known and expected that Twitter, for example, is a public service. Sure, you can make your account private, but its very nature as a public microblogging service is that people can use it and have their voice heard by the many. Conversely, the idea of Facebook was always connecting with your real life friends, and sharing things with them and them alone. That's why everyone flocked to it over MySpace in the first place.
Yet, as Facebook tries to spread itself across all of cyberspace, it makes your activity more and more public, trying to squeeze itself into the niches of Twitter and Digg, all the while becoming a shadow of its former self. Thankfully, Facebook's new privacy controls, while certainly not perfect, do make it easier to control your social experience on the site. We've gone through the new privacy settings extensively, and have created this guide to help you take Facebook back for yourself, making it what you signed up for, not what Facebook is trying desperately make it.
(The amount of data you want and expect Facebook to share publicly varies from person to person; below, we've highlighted the settings that we think align most closely with both what we think of as good settings and what feels closest to Facebook's earlier privacy settings.)
The screenshots throughout the guide depict the recommended settings we describe, and you can click on them to view a larger, more readable version.
Note: Remember that Facebook's new privacy settings will roll out to users over the next couple of weeks, so if you don't have them yet, keep an eye on your Facebook page for a popup at the top of your news feed (shown above).
Facebook's new system, available here, splits your privacy settings up into four sections. The first, brand new section is your directory information, which controls the kind of information that people searching for you would use to identify you. This includes your friend list, education and work, hometown/current city, and interests and other pages. This also includes settings on who can search for you, send you friend requests and send you messages. This section works much like the old privacy settings: once you click on "view settings" under basic directory information, you'll be able to choose who can view each specific type of item, whether that be "everyone", "friends of friends", or just friends.
While Facebook recommends you keep all this information public, so people searching for you can tell who you are, it doesn't all seem necessary. Your interests, pages and hometown can likely be set to "friends only", as shown above. We'd recommend setting your education and work to "friends and networks", so people you are not friends with but that go to the same school or work in the same office can easily find you. The rest can be set to public, unless you'd really prefer that you initiate all friend requests yourself — which is fine — but for most people, being in Facebook's search results helps people find you. I've personally set "send me messages" and "see my friend list" to friends of friends, which is still fairly public, but rarely will anyone not connected to me by someone else need to do either of those things, so I've set them accordingly. That part is really up to you.
The most revamped section is the "Sharing on Facebook" section, which has been greatly simplified. This section includes your more personal details, like statuses, photos, posts, bio, contact information and so on. Facebook has a few quick links on the side to set everything to public, private or their recommended settings, which honestly are still a bit too open for our tastes. Thus, our recommendation is simple: just hit the "friends only" link on the sidebar, then hit the "apply settings" button. There's no reason the rest of the world needs to see all this information if you're using Facebook in the same way you did back in 2005, and there's no reason to make it complicated and use custom settings (unless you really, really want everyone to know your favourite quotations).
Down in the corner of the main privacy settings page is the "applications and websites" section, which controls access to your information outside Facebook. Click on the edit settings button and take a look at what applications you are using, if any. While your first instinct may be to turn off all platform applications, take note of the fact that if you use, say, Facebook for Android or the previously mentioned Desktop Notifications Mac app, this will make them unusable. In addition, if you link your Twitter account with Facebook, or use iPhoto to upload pictures to Facebook, you'll need applications active to do these types of things as well.
Thankfully, the applications menu is a bajillion times simpler than the old one, so you can use custom settings without worrying about spending all day tweaking them. All you need to do is click the "remove unwanted or spammy applications" link and remove the applications you don't want on your account at all. Keep the ones you need, and move on.
You'll probably want to completely lock down the rest of this page. Set "game and application activity" to friends only (although this very well may not matter depending on the apps you use). The other three options have "edit settings" buttons that take you to windows with one or many checkboxes, all of which you should probably uncheck. You don't need to share your personal information with any applications, nor do you probably want your information all over other sites. Showing up in Google searches is up to you, though if you're using Facebook purely for personal reasons, you might as well uncheck that box as well.
The last section is your block list, which you probably won't tweak too much at the moment, but it is beneficial to become acquainted with the feature itself. Here, you can block specific users (such as overly friendly high school acquaintances and angry ex-girl/boyfriends) by name or email, as well as block invites from particularly spammy applications. While this would be a good time to enter in any people or applications that come to mind, remember that you can also block them from pretty much anywhere on Facebook, so as you discover how annoying that application or person is, you can just click the block button on your news feed or their profile.
Obviously, these are merely recommendations from those of us at Lifehacker that are fairly privacy conscious, but not enough to quit Facebook altogether. You can tweak the settings to your liking anywhere you want. The main idea of this guide was to use Facebook new privacy settings (which are rather simple and give you a good amount of control) to bring the Facebook experience back a few years, when you spoke its name with a positive tone and not one of spite. Have the new privacy settings rolled out for you yet? If so, let us know what you think of them and our recommendations in the comments.