I’ve often said that if you look up a list of antonyms for the word “privacy” that “Facebook” would be at the top of the list.
Let’s face it, if you use Facebook, you’re probably sharing more about yourself and your private information than you should be.
Facebook is a “free” online social network. What this means is that while Facebook doesn’t charge you a monthly fee (and most likely never will, contrary to many online rumors), it does take something from you that’s much more valuable: your personal information.
Facebook sells the personal data it collects from you to its advertisers, so they can better target ads to convince you to buy things. The social network collected $27.64 billion in revenue during 2016, up from $7.87 billion in 2013.
All of this is based on personal information that the service’s users give up completely voluntarily.
“But, it’s too late for me,” I can hear many of you say. “I’m already in too deep. Go help others by sharing my tale of woe.”
Not so fast, Sparky. There is still hope for you – and your privacy.
In this article, I’m going to guide you through the many ways you can keep your Facebook profile private from the moment you first set it up.
And, for those of you who have been using Facebook and oversharing your private info with advertisers and scam artists, I’m going to show you how to make your profile private again.
While it’s impossible to completely lock your Facebook profile down, I’ll share some tips that will allow you to keep the important parts of your Facebook profile private, while still allowing you to enjoy the service and stay in touch with friends and family.
What Kind of Information Facebook Collects
Before starting to lock down your profile, I’m going to go over some of the interesting information that is included on the Facebook Privacy page. It offers a great amount of information on what type of data the service collects, how they use that data for their own operations, how they share it, and much more.
This section of the article should have actually been entitled, “What Kind of Information Facebook DOESN’T Collect.” It would have been a much shorter section, believe me.
The amount and types of info that Facebook collects about you varies depending on what services and such you make use of on the social network. To take a look at Facebook’s own listing of what types of information they collect, scroll down to the bottom of your Facebook page and look in the lower right-hand corner for the “Privacy” link, as shown below. Click that link.
Once you’re on the Facebook Privacy page, click the first link, the one entitled: “What kinds of information do we collect?”
As you’ll soon find out, Facebook collects just about everything you can think of about you and your connection, and maybe a few things you didn’t think of. Let’s go over it section by section, shall we?
Things You Do and Information You Provide
Facebook collects information from you when you sign up for their social network. They collect your name, your email address or phone number, your gender, and your birthdate. That is almost all the information you’re required to furnish when you’re applying for a credit card online.
Once you’re signed up for Facebook, the data collection and mining begin in earnest. The social network collects info about how you use their service, including the types of content you view and engage with, and how much time you spend engaged with that content.
Things Others Do and Information They Provide
The service also collects information and content about you from other users, such as when they share a photo and tag you in it, send a message to you or enter your contact information.
Your Networks and Connections
Facebook also tracks who you’re connected to, be it an individual or a group. They keep track of how you interact with them and what you share with them. They also track the contact information about those individuals that you might upload, enter or import into the service.
Information About Payments
If you use Facebook Services for purchases or other financial transactions, such as when you buy something in a game or donate to a charity, they collect info about the deal. Information collected includes billing, shipping, and contact details.
They learn all about the computers and other electronic devices you use to access Facebook. This includes your device’s operating system, hardware version, settings, software names and types, battery and signal strength, and device identifiers.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Also collected is information about your device’s current location, which it receives using your device’s GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals. The social network also collects info about your mobile carrier or ISP, the type of browser you’re using to access Facebook, and your language, local time zone, cell phone number, and current IP address.
Information From Websites and Apps That Use Facebook Services
When you click “Like” for a third-party website or app that uses Facebook’s services, or when you use the Facebook Login option to connect to their websites, the network grabs information from those sites and services. This includes info about the websites and apps you use, how you use their services, and the information you provide to said website or app.
Information From Third-Party Partners
Companies that Facebook partners with or that advertise on Facebook also supply information to Facebook on your experiences or interactions with them.
The social network also gathers info about you from companies that are owned or operated by Facebook. These companies include Instagram, Oculus, WhatsApp, and many other firms.
How Does Facebook Use the Information It Collects?
Facebook doesn’t gather all of this personal information about its users simply because they’re curious. Their entire business model is built on collecting personal information about their users.
The network says they collect the info so they can create “engaging and customized experiences” for their users. More importantly, they share all of this gathered information with their advertisers and business partners. (And, they collect a nice piece of change doing it.)
The social network says they use the collected information to provide shortcuts and suggestions, such as offering a suggestion about which friends to tag in a photo you’ve just posted. They use location information to suggest nearby events and businesses.
Facebook seems open enough about using your information for profit, as they list a good number of the ways they sell your personal info and usage statistics to their partners. They admit to using it to tailor ads to your activities on the site. The service claims they keep personally-identifying information private unless you give them permission.
Information shared with advertisers includes how the customer’s ad performed, which includes how many users viewed the ad or installed an app after viewing the ad.
Non-identifying demographic information is also supplied to advertisers. This info includes such statistics as the gender of the user, their country of origin, and their likes and dislikes.
If you’re interested in why you see a particular ad or types of ads, you can review your Facebook advertising preferences to help better understand why you’re getting all of those ads for nail fungus remedies.
Facebook Privacy Tools
Believe it or not, Facebook actually has privacy tools built into their community, which are designed to help you somewhat protect your online profile. I say “somewhat” because let’s face it: Facebook still wants to collect personal information about you to sell.
Almost none of the settings I’m going to show you are enabled by default, so if you haven’t already taken a look at these settings and modified them in your favor, you are not protected by them.
So, let’s dig in and start making your Facebook profile private again.
Facebook is all about serving up ads based on your profile, activities, “Likes” and any other information they can glean from your usage. So let’s look closer at limiting what they can use. We’ll be looking at the “Your ad preferences” section on Facebook, so make sure you’re logged in, and then visit the ad preferences page.
In the “Your Interests” section of the ad preferences page, you’ll find a number of categories that Facebook uses to track your interests. The categories cover basically anything a Facebook user might be interested in, and includes pages you’ve visited, including specific brands such as Starbucks, and general categories, like coffee.
Interest categories include:
- News and entertainment
- Business and industry
- Hobbies and activities
- Travel, places, and events
- Sports and outdoors
- Shopping and fashion
- Family & relationships
- Fitness and wellness
- Lifestyle and culture
- The ever-popular “Other”
If you click each category, you can view the subjects you have shown interest in while using Facebook. The social network makes use of this information to personalize and target the ads you’ll see as you use the service.
As we can see below, I have clicked links and searched for info on the movie “The Big Lebowski” while using the service. This is why I see ads for companies or websites that may offer Lebowski-related services and products, including the Dudeist religion, as well as laid back sweaters, and throw rugs that will really pull a room together.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I am an ordained Dudeist priest. I’m available to perform weddings, dude mitzvahs and funerals.)
By clicking each interest, I can preview examples of the types of ads I might see while using Facebook.
While viewing these example ads, I can also indicate whether I am still interested in this subject by clicking the smiley or the frowny face to indicate yes or no. Facebook then takes note of this answer for deciding what ads I will see on the site.
I can also hover my mouse pointer over an interest and then click the “X” in the corner of the subject to remove it from Facebook’s ad calculations.
Advertisers You’ve Interacted With
This section is similar to the “Your Interests” section. It lists the Facebook advertisers you’ve given your contact info to, those whose sites you’ve visited or whose apps you’ve used, and those whose ads you have clicked.
Clicking one of these icons allows users to either report a bad experience with that particular advertiser or hide any more ads from this advertiser.
This section shows what personal information you are sharing with Facebook that they pass along to advertisers who wish to reach people meeting certain demographic requirements.
The information includes your relationship status, your employment info, your level of education, and which gender you are interested in.
I highly recommend turning off sharing of all of these profile fields, merely on the grounds of the less information you share with anyone else, the better protected that information is.
Changing any settings listed here only affect which ads Facebook shows you while you’re on their network. It does not modify which bits of information are still visible on your profile.
The categories listed in this section also help advertisers target ad audiences. Users are added to these categories based on information they have provided to Facebook, as well as other activity.
Your actions here will be decided by how you feel about Facebook and their advertisers knowing you’re a console gamer, that you’re a fan of more than one sports team and other generic information.
Still, generic or not, this is all helping Facebook and their partners target you, so be sure to look through this list and delete anything you don’t feel comfortable with.
This section controls whether or not you’ll see ads based on your use of websites and apps, if your Facebook ad preferences can be used to show you ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook companies, and if ads can indicate to your friends whether or not you have liked the product or service.
Ads Based on Your Use of Websites and Apps
This setting determines whether or not you’ll see ads based on websites and apps that use Facebook’s technologies. For instance, if you visit a professional sports website that has technological ties with Facebook, you’ll likely see ads for sports-related products.
Ads on Apps and Websites off of the Facebook Companies
Many advertisers participate in the Facebook Audience Network, which is an ad network supplying ads to websites and apps across the web, appearing on computers, mobile devices, and some Smart TVs.
Ads on Your Social Actions
When this is turned on, Facebook friends will be shown ads based on actions you take, such as pages you’ve liked or posts you’ve shared.
Actions to Take
If you’re concerned about Facebook using your online habits to tailor ads to you, and you’re not too hot on the idea of your friends and family knowing everything you “Like” while on Facebook, I’d turn all of this off. I did.
Managing Your Privacy
By default, any posts you make on Facebook can be seen by the “Public.”
This means anyone, whether they are connected to you or not, can view your posts. While this may not be a big deal for many of your posts, there may be others that you only want friends to see. And occasionally, you may post things you want some of your friends to see, but not others.
To take a look at what your current setting is, go to the “Settings” page. (Click the down arrow icon next to the help icon in the upper right-hand corner of your Facebook page.
In the Settings menu, click the “Privacy” menu item. This will display the “Privacy Settings and Tools” in your browser, as shown below.
We’re going to be looking at the “Who can see my stuff?” section first.
Who Can See Your Future Posts?
Right at the top of this section is the “Who can see your future posts?” setting. This setting allows you to manage the privacy of what you share on Facebook. Whichever option you select here will be the default for any future posts you make.
The options are:
- Public – Anyone on or off Facebook can see “Public” posts.
- Friends – Only those Facebook users you have added as “Friends” will be able to view your new posts.
- Friends except… – If you click this menu option, you can designate which of your friends will NOT be able to see your future posts.
- Specific friends – This option allows you to specify the only Facebook friends that WILL be allowed to see future posts.
- Only me – If you select this option, your future posts will only be seen by yourself; no one else will have access to them. This seems to defeat the purpose of posting on a social network, but I guess there could be uses for this.
Who Can Contact Me?
It defaults to “Everyone,” which means any Facebook user can send you a friend request, which is why you’re currently receiving requests from users who have absolutely no connection to you.
This section allows users to designate who can send them friend requests.
Since there is not a “No one” option, I suggest setting this to “Friends of friends” – at least then you’ll have some connection to users reaching out to you.
Who Can Look Me Up?
This section of the Privacy menu controls which Facebook users can look you up, via either the email address or the phone number you provided when you signed up for Facebook. It also controls whether or not search engines outside of Facebook can link to your profile.
For both the email and phone number “look me up” settings, you have three choices: “Everyone,” “Friends of friends” and “Friends.” In the absence of a “No one” option, I’d suggest “Friends.” This is as tightly as you can lock both of these settings down.
As for the “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?” setting, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with your Facebook profile.
If you’re trying to gain publicity for your business or project, or you’re just trying to get your name out there, allow search engines to link to your profile. If you’re just hooking up with friends and family, don’t allow this.
Either way, your profile can still be found by users searching via Facebook.
Timeline and Tagging
Facebook’s Timeline and Tagging settings control who can add things to your timeline, who can see things on your timeline, and what tags other users can add to posts and photos.
Who can add things to my timeline?
In the “Who can add things to my timeline?” section, you can control whether or not to allow your Facebook friends to add items to your Facebook Timeline.
If allowed, friends can post things like a Happy Birthday greeting on your Timeline, or your Timeline will show when they tag you in a post. Setting it to “Only me” locks down your account to only allow your own posts to appear in your Timeline.
Also in the “Who can add things to my timeline?” section is the ability to set whether or not you want to review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your Timeline. If this is enabled, you will be required to review each post by others to your Timeline.
This setting only controls what is allowed to display on your Timeline. Any posts you’re tagged in will still appear in Facebook search, News Feed, and other places around the Facebook network.
Who can see things on my Timeline?
In the “Who can see things on my Timeline?” section, you can review what others will see on your Timeline, who can see posts that you’ve been tagged in, and who can see what others post on your Timeline.
One handy tool included here is the ability to see your Timeline as others would see it. You can view your Timeline as how the Facebook Public would see it, or how a specific user would see it. This is quite handy when you want to make sure you have certain posts hidden from the right (or wrong) set of eyes.
How can I manage tags people add and tagging suggestions?
In the “How can I manage tags people add and tagging suggestions?” section, you can review tags other Facebook users add to your own posts, who to add to an audience if you’re tagged in a post, and who can see tag suggestions for uploaded photos that “look like you.”
These settings control when and where you can be tagged on Facebook in other posts besides your own. This is quite helpful if you don’t want to expose the entire world to the greatness that is you.
The “Blocking” section of the Settings menu offers you a set of tools to allow you to add friends to a “Restricted List,” completely block a user, block messages from a specific user, block app and event invites, block apps, and block pages.
The Restricted List allows you to add friends who should not see posts on Facebook shared only with friends. Restricted users will still see things that are shared with the Public or to a mutual friend’s Timeline. They also still see posts they are tagged in. Don’t worry – your friends aren’t notified when they’re added to the Restricted List.
This section allows you to completely block other Facebook users. This is handy for blocking bullies, exes, and those who you no longer want to communicate with, but who can’t seem to take a hint.
When added to this list, users cannot post on your timeline, invite you to events or groups, start a conversation with you or add you as a friend.
This option allows you to block messages and video calls from anyone you place on the list. While they won’t be able to contact you in the Messenger app, they may still be able to post to your Timeline or tag you, and comment on your posts or comments – unless they have been specifically blocked from doing so in your Restricted List.
Block App Invites
When you add a Facebook user to this list, it means you’ll no longer see future app requests from that user. If you haven’t added the friend to this list already, and they send you an app invite, you can click the “Ignore All Invites From This Friend” link under their latest request.
Block Event Invites
Adding a friend to this list means you’ll no longer receive any event invites from that friend.
In this section, you can add Facebook apps to a block list. Once an app is blocked, it can no longer contact you in any way or retrieve any private info about you.
Any Page name entered here loses the right to interact with your posts, like your posts and comments, or reply to your comments. You will also no longer be able to post to the Page’s Timeline or message the Page. Blocking a Page also unlikes and unfollows it.
The Facebook App Settings menu offers you a single location to view which apps use your Facebook credentials for logins and which apps have the ability to manage your permissions. You can edit apps’ access or delete the apps you no longer use.
If you’re locking down your Facebook profile, I highly recommend going through all of the apps and scoping out their settings.
The Apps Settings listing is sorted alphabetically and can also be searched to find a particular app. To edit an app’s settings, simply hover your mouse pointer over an entry in the listing. Then, click the “Edit Settings” icon that appears. (It looks like a pencil.)
Once you’ve clicked the “Edit” icon, you’ll be presented with a listing of what Facebook-related information you provide to this app. Such information can include your public profile, friend list, your email address and birthday, and video-viewing activity. It will also display whether the app can post to Facebook on your behalf and send you notifications.
You can toggle each setting on or off, setting each option to your desired setting. I have been on Facebook for at least 10 years now, and I was amazed at how many apps I had used my Facebook credentials to access.
I imagine my intention in my more security-naive days was to make it easier to keep track of logins, but I must admit, there were plenty of “WTF?” (What the Fudge) moments while I was perusing the list of apps.
I ended up deleting 99% of the app authorizations I had agreed to over the years. (It’s a few months later, and I haven’t experienced any lack of use from removing the authorizations.)
While it may take a bit of time to work your way through the list of apps you’ve given your Facebook credentials to, it‘s worth it to lock down the ones you want to keep and delete the apps you either don’t use or can’t remember setting up in the first place.
We’ve looked at quite a few settings that are related to maintaining the privacy of your Facebook profile. While going through each category and locking down certain settings to make your Facebook profile more private may be time-consuming, it will pay dividends for your peace of mind in the end.
To make your Facebook profile private while still allowing you to make use of the social aspects of the network, be sure to do the following:
Know What Information Facebook Collects About You & Exactly How Facebook Uses It
Make sure you know exactly what information Facebook collects on you and your online actions. This comes under the heading of, “If something is free, then you’re the product being sold.”
Pay close attention to what Facebook does with the information it collects about you and your actions. Pay particular attention to who they share the information with.
Learn About Facebook’s Privacy Tools and How To Use Them To Protect Your Personal Information
Familiarize yourself with the tools Facebook supplies to lock down your privacy settings. Don’t just assume your personal info is protected from prying eyes.
Control How Facebook Follows You Around the Web, What Ads It Displays, and What Personal Info the Service Shares With Advertisers
Again, if you want to keep your personal info as private as possible, then you shouldn’t be on Facebook. But seriously, keep track of how your information is shared with advertisers. There’s no need for them to know you better than you know yourself.
If you don’t want to see ads for the Squatty Potty one hundred times a day all because you clicked on the wrong unicorn photo, lock Facebook out from following you around on the other parts of the internet.
Make Sure You Know Exactly Who Will See Your New Posts
This is especially important if your posts tend to be a bit risque, and Father Mulcahy follows you.
It’s even worse if you leave all of your posts on “public,” because then everyone – including potential employers – will be able to see what you were up to in Las Vegas. (What happens there really doesn’t stay there if it’s posted on Facebook. Or Twitter, or Instagram, or…). Lock it down.
Control Who Can Look You Up and Contact You on Facebook
Restrict who can look you up to “Friends” or “Friends of Friends.” I have it set to “Friends.” Strangers don’t need to be able to access any of your personal info, even if it’s just a photo of you at Spring Break ‘04.
And if you don’t want all sorts of unusual characters – and the occasional hacker – sending you a friend request, then lock this one down to only “Friends of Friends.” At least then you have a chance at having something in common.
Stop Outside Search Engines From Linking to Your Facebook Profile
This controls whether or not everyone on the internet can search for your Facebook profile via Google. If your profile is for business, then allow it. A personal one? Nope – keep it locked away.
Control Who Is Allowed to Post to Your Timeline, and What They See on Your Timeline
If your Facebook friends can be trusted to only post cheerful Happy Birthday greetings and such on your Timeline, then by all means, allow your friends to do so. If you have friends like mine, who tend to fall on the mischief-making side of things, lock it down to “Only me.”
Make use of the handy ability to see your Timeline as the public or a specific Facebook user would see it, so you can lock things down accordingly.
Learn How to Review and Manage the Tags Other Users Add to Your Posts and Photos
Keep this one on a short leash to limit your exposure on the web.
Learn How to Block Users, Messages, Event Invites, and App Requests
If you have former friends, lovers, or golfing partners you no longer wish to communicate with on Facebook, learn how to block them as I’ve shown you in this article. Perfect for those clingy folks who just won’t let go.
If you still want to be friends, but can’t stand it when they send you messages, invites, or especially those aggravating game invites (don’t get me started), you can selectively decide how they can communicate with you.
Know Which Apps Use Your Facebook Credentials and Adjust the Settings Accordingly
I’m willing to bet you have scores of apps that you’ve granted access to your Facebook credentials over the years. (It’s just so darned easy!) Make sure to go through the list when you get a chance. You’ll be surprised at how many are on the list. (DELETE! DELETE! DELETE!)
Facebook Privacy FAQs
How Can I Make My Facebook Profile Private?
By default, any posts you make on Facebook can be seen by the “Public.” Go to the “Settings” page. (Click the down arrow icon next to the help icon in the upper right-hand corner of your Facebook page.) In the Settings menu, click the “Privacy” menu item to view “Privacy Settings and Tools.” Here, you can adjust your privacy settings, as described in this article.
Who Can See My Facebook Posts?
By default, any posts you make on Facebook can be seen by the “Public.” This means any Facebook user can see your posts. However, you can control the visibility of each individual post by clicking on the pull-down menu below your name on the "Create Post" prompt.
Why Can’t We Be Friends?
Occasionally, it may seem as if you and Facebook are engaged in a perpetual game of “Spy vs. Spy.”
However, the information I’ve shared with you in this article will help you take back your privacy on Facebook. And once you have it back, make sure to never let it go! (Was that too 30’s romance movie-ish? Because it felt 30’s romance movie-ish. But frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.)