The Total Facebook Privacy Guide

Using Facebook while maintaining your privacy is a constant challenge. Follow the steps in this guide to ensure you’re not sharing information you intended to keep to yourself.

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Facebook has never embraced the notion of “opt-in” when it comes to privacy. The site constantly adds new features and many of those share information in ways that aren’t always obvious. Given that, we’ve updated our guide from earlier in the year to include some of the new features and options, covering basic privacy settings and additional tweaks that can help enhance your privacy.

Basic Privacy Settings: What You Share

Facebook’s main Privacy Settings page lets you set the default privacy for your posts. Whenever you post a status update, a set of photos or a link, you can set the audience for that post, whether that’s always public or something you only want your friends to see. Hit the radio button corresponding to your preference under “Control Your Default Privacy”. If you’d prefer a more complex setting (such as posts being visible by your friends and anyone else in a given network like your office or university). you can hit the “Custom button” and further refine the default setting there.

Remember that whenever you create a new post, you can edit the privacy settings for that individual next to the “Post” button. This setting creattes the default privacy for your posts, which is what applies when you don’t override it. Give some thought to the audience every time you make a new post — everyone doesn’t need to see everything.

Connecting On Facebook

When you head to Facebook’s Privacy Settings page, you’ll see a number of categories. The first of these is called “How You Connect”, which lets you control who can find you on Facebook and the methods they can use to do that. Click on the “Edit Settings” link next to “How You Connect” to access those options. You can make each category viewable by one of three different groups: everyone on Facebook; friends of your friends; and only your friends.

If you don’t want everything to be public, you should edit these settings. I let anyone search for me and send me friend requests, but I only let friends of friends send me messages, and I only let friends post on my wall and see my wall.

Timeline And Tagging

This section controls who can see your timeline, and what happens when friends tag you in photos and posts. Many of these are self-explanatory, such as who can post on your timeline, and who can see what others post on your timeline.

The remaining settings relate to tagging, which works like this: When someone tags you in a post or photo, that post or photo will appear on your timeline as well. If you don’t want every tagged post to show up on your timeline, you can turn reviewing on in this section, under “Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline”. If you enable this, whenever someone tags you in a post you can decide whether that will show up in your timeline. Note that if you want the tag removed completely, this isn’t where you do that — this only decides whether the resulting posts show up on your timeline. You’ll have to go to the post and click “Remove Tag” to remove the tag completely.

You can also decide who can see posts you’ve been tagged in on your timeline, as well as turn on reviewing for when friends tag someone else in posts they make on your timeline. This is also where you can turn off Facebook’s tag suggestion feature, which uses facial recognition to recommend that your friends tag you in photos.

Ads, Apps And Websites

This is where you control which Facebook applications can access your profile, and which web sites outside of Facebook can access your account. Click on the Edit settings button to tweak these option.

Frankly, I think Facebook applications are awful. With the exception of a handful of useful apps (Twitter and the iPhoto Uploader), I try and keep this clean. Most Facebook applications are insecure, spammy and just downright annoying. Next to the list of “Apps You Use”, hit the “Edit Settings” button to see the full list. From here, you can remove an app by clicking the “X”, or you can hit “Edit Settings” next to an app to see what information of yours it can access and what it can do. I usually draw the line at an application posting on my wall. What you’re happy with will vary, but it’s worth checking the settings for individual apps carefully.

It makes sense to lock down most of the other options on this page. Under “How people bring your info to apps they use”, you’ll want to uncheck all the boxes, so your friends’ apps can’t access your information (after all, who knows what applications they’re using?). You’ll want to disable the Instant Personalization feature as well, which will let sites like Pandora and Yelp use your Facebook account to give you extra “features” (which usually translates to more spam and more ads). Unless you want your Facebook page coming up in Google results, you’ll want to turn off Public search as well.

Lastly, you can change ad settings here. Facebook will sometimes try to use your info in advertisements to your friends — for example, if they see an ad for a restaurant you’ve “liked” on Facebook, then they’ll see your name under the ad. To turn this off, edit both your third party ad settings and your social ad settings here, changing both to “no one”.

Limit The Audience For Past Posts

The ability to limit who has seen posts you have already made was added when Timeline was introduced, and was one of the few saving graces for that “feature”.
This setting his lets you change all your existing posts to “Friends only”. This is handy if you were “tricked” by Facebook in the past to make some of your posts public — this will undo that and restrict the audience for past posts so only your friends can see them.

Block Lists

You might think the block lists are only for ex-significant others, but there are actually some useful features in there. Not only can you block users, you can block app invites or event invites from specific users. So if you have a friend that you like, but they’re one of those people that invites every single person they know to their upcoming party, you can block event invites from that person. Similarly, if you have friends that play way too many games on Facebook, you can stop them from inviting you.

To tweak these settings, select “Edit Your Lists” under Block Lists. To add a friend to any of those lists, simply type in their name. You can also block them from the main Facebook interface. You can block a user that wrote on your wall, ignore event invites when someone invites you to an event, or block an app that someone invites you to.

Profile Settings

Privacy settings related to your profile itself — including where you live, your political views, your favourite music and so on — are all available from the “Edit Profile” page. If you go to your profile, click “About”, and then choose “Edit” on one of these sections, you’ll be able to change that section’s settings from there.

HTTPS won’t help if someone acquires your Facebook password. If you want to make sure you’re the only one logging into your account, you can enable two-factor authentication, which will send a code to your phone every time you access your account from a new computer or device. That way, if someone gets your password and tries to log in from your computer, they won’t be able to get in unless they’ve also stolen your computer (or your phone).

To enable this feature, head to your Account Settings and click “Security” in the left-hand sidebar. Under “Login Approvals”, check the box that says “Require me to enter a security code each time an unrecognized computer or device tries to access my account”. That way, you’ll get a notification every time a new device logs in as you.

Privacy-Enhancing Extensions And Tools

Some Facebook annoyances can’t be fixed from your account settings. Thankfully, you can pick up a few browser extensions that will help you out. Here are some we recommend.

Facebook Disconnect

]Even if you love Facebook, it can become annoying seeing that “Like” button all over the web. If you’d like to clean up Facebook clutter on other web sites, previously mentioned Facebook Disconnect for Google Chrome will remove the Like button from most web sites you visit.

AdBlock Plus

Many sites will try to connect to your open Facebook account and use it to “enhance” your experience. This can be really annoying. We disabled some of these options when we turned off the Instant Personalization Program, but you may want additional protection. If you’d like to keep Facebook separate from your other online accounts, download AdBlock Plus for Firefox or Chrome and add the following filters:


With this option, third-party sites won’t be able to use your currently-logged-in Facebook account to add “features”. Result!

F.B. Purity And Social Fixer

Previously mentioned F.B. Purity is a userscript for most browsers that will hide annoying Facebook applications and news feed updates. Previously mentioned Social Fixer also offers this feature, but is more complicated to implement. If you simply want to hide spam postings, go with F.B. Purity, but Social Fixer is a great choice if you have the time to configure it.

Internet Shame Insurance

Facebook’s privacy settings can be fairly cryptic, and even after reviewing your privacy settings like a hawk, you can still miss things. Lifehacker’s Adam Pash created the Internet Shame Insurance extension for Chrome to translate Facebook privacy into plain English. Whenever you post on Facebook, it will tell you exactly who can see that post, potentially saving you from embarrassing updates.

Have additional Facebook privacy protection strategies to share? Tell us in the comments.

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