Five Facebook Privacy Tricks You Need to Know

Finding Your Privacy Settings

Finding Your Privacy Settings

Facebook continues to be on my list of companies that people seem to love despite every effort on their part to the contrary (that list, for the record, also includes Apple, Google and occasionally Twitter). Their latest attempt to alienate me involves the changes they’ve made to their privacy policy and mechanisms, which overall give you less privacy, not more.

Here are five things you need to know about the new privacy and security settings on Facebook:

  1. Know what is now considered “publicly available information.” Here’s what the EFF has to say about this:

    Under the new regime, Facebook treats that information — along with your name, profile picture, current city, gender, networks, and the pages that you are a “fan” of — as “publicly available information” or “PAI.” Before, users were allowed to restrict access to much of that information. Now, however, those privacy options have been eliminated.

  2. Visit All Five of the Privacy Settings Pages

    Visit All Five of the Privacy Settings Pages

    Visit all five of the privacy setting pages. There are settings buried in all of these pages, so make sure you take a few minutes to peruse all of them to make sure.

  3. Keep your friends close and your pages closer. You’ve heard of the Facebook “gaydar” project, right? People can tell a lot from who you friend. While sharing who your friends are can help you get more friends, it may reveal more information than you know. The EFF again:

    [A]lthough you used to have the ability to prevent everyone but your friends from seeing your friends list, that old privacy setting … has now been removed completely from the privacy settings page.

    You can now tweak who can see your friend list by going to your profile and clicking on the pencil on the top right corner of your friends box. What you still cannot change is who can see the pages you are a fan of — there is simply no way to remove that information from your public, searchable profile unless you make your profile not searchable by anyone, a rather harsh setting that will significantly limit your ability to grow your friends network. If you’re a little embarrassed by your fan pages, delete them.

  4. Create a dummy test account to test all your settings. While the “Preview My Profile” button is helpful, the interaction between the various complicated settings is sometimes surprising and the best way to test all possible settings is to create a temporary fake account. This is relatively easy to do, and last I checked, doesn’t even require a valid email account to accomplish. Use it to test how viewable and searchable your profile is. For instance, it’s not completely obvious how to turn off your Wall to non-friends, but this can be adjusted in the “Posts by Me” section” (which I was surprised to see defaulted to “Friends and Networks” — umm, no, thank you).
  5. CUCme? Remember playing that game with a child young enough not to realize that if they cannot see you, you may still be able to see them? The same holds true in Facebook — there is no reciprocal privacy on Facebook, so just because you can’t find somebody else doesn’t mean that they cannot find you. If other people have their search privacy settings more constricted than you, they will be able to find you while you may not be able to find them. The most problematic effect of this could have to do with banning other profiles — in order to find the person you want to ban, they have to be searchable by you, so banning only effectively works while you’re still friends with someone. This seems strange, because — not that I’m in the practice of banning lots of people — banning is typically an afterthought that occurs to Facebook users after they unfriend someone.

PC World has their own “top 5” list of things to consider. In summary, to quote an old TV show, “be careful out there!”

Todd Van Hoosear

About Todd Van Hoosear

Todd’s love of technology started as a child, when his dad would bring home chips and switches from his work in the electronics industry that would feed his imagination for years. Combining a stint as an IT guy with his education in PR and communication, Todd has helped clients in the engineering, mobile, cloud, networking, consumer technology and consulting spaces bring new ideas – and new takes on old ideas – to the market.

Learn more about Todd


  1. strong words – it’s like you asked jason calcanis to guest post! I blogged favorably about the pending privacy changes because I believed they would be beneficial to facebook’s users as well as the businesses that want to market to them. good article in the wall street journal yesterday about the real reasons driving changes – so that facebook had something to offer google and bing in terms of searchable content.

    so kind of a bummer, sure. but what’s the real effect? meh. there will be a few more apocryphal tales of broken relationships and lost jobs, but face it – most of the stuff on facebook just isn’t that revealing (or interesting) to those not involved with the person. eff, calcanis and fellow ranters claim to be defending the rights of the great unwashed – the great majority of facebook users who never cared that much about their privacy settings and in a few weeks, still won’t.

    I am relieved that they retreated pretty quickly on mandated friend list visibility. it gives me hope that they will turn around on page visibility soon, as well. that said, I do have some issues with how facebook handled things.

    (1) it’s disingenuous to make the “recommended” settings less private instead of more and claim it’s what users want. however, I was pleased to see that my privacy settings did not revert – eg, if you cared enough before to adjust your settings, they stayed adjusted.

    (2) disingenuous changed to deceptive when facebook started showing a popup window on the search settings page in an effort to keep users from unchecking the “make all my stuff searchable” box. the box states that the “rumors” that you cannot control what gets shared on google are false because “only basic information and information you agree to share with everyone will be indexed.” fine, but they don’t tell you that they have changed the definition of basic information! it now includes more items – things like you friend list and pages you’ve fanned.

    (3) I want them to bring back wall post granular controls. previously, you were able to go through a checklist of the types of items that you wanted to go on your wall and/or who could see them – like changes on profile items (like relationship status), that you have commented somewhere or joined something. now it’s all or nothing. boo.

    I have a few posts up about the changes and quick how to’s like making one’s friend list private. pretty basic stuff, but that’s my audience. I like to think the most people are capable of making smart decisions once they have the information to do so.

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