As I’ve said before, one way privacy issues happen is through people’s own actions. Over-sharing on social media is the most common example.
Nowhere is that more common than on Facebook, where privacy settings are so complex, it’s often difficult to know exactly who can see what, when, and where.
Let’s review Facebook’s privacy settings, and perhaps most importantly, what they might imply.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
But first, a caveat
One of the issues we face with technology is change. Just about the time we have something figured out, it changes for one reason or another.
Experience shows that this is particularly true for Facebook. Presumably to make things clearer and more secure, Facebook has been known to change the options and settings they provide, as well as how and where they’re configured.
It’s quite possible that what I show you today may change by the time you read this.
I’ll be avoiding more detailed “click here, then here” type of instruction, since this is the type most likely to be invalidated by future changes. Instead, I’ll focus more on walking through and discussing each of the current settings.
How do you use Facebook?
One of the questions I think it’s important to ask yourself before altering your privacy settings is simply this: “How do I want to use Facebook?”
Do you want to be easy to find or difficult?
Do you want to share everything with the world, or just a few select friends?
How do you define “friend”, anyway? Close friends in real life? People you’ve actually met? People you’ve never met but corresponded with? People you recognize? Anyone with a pulse?
The answers to each of these will impact the settings you choose. If you choose the private/close friends route, you might elect to make it difficult to be found, and restrict who sees whatever you might share. On the other hand, if you’re someone using Facebook as part of a public persona, you might choose more promiscuous and permissive settings.
The choice is up to you. But do make it a choice rather than an accident, particularly since Facebook’s defaults tend towards the public/promiscuous side.
The settings we care about are currently accessed by clicking on the padlock menu item in the Facebook menu bar, and then the More Settings link at the bottom of the resulting menu.
Even though, in this example, Facebook is providing some shortcuts to common privacy settings directly on that menu, we really want to go to More Settings for the complete list.
Facebook Privacy Settings
“More Settings” takes you directly to Facebook’s “Privacy Settings and Tools”.
Privacy settings are divided into three major areas:
- Who can see my stuff?
- Who can contact me?
- Who can look me up?
Who can see my stuff?
This section is about what happens to the things you post on Facebook, including your posts, comments, tags, and more.
Who can see your future posts? These settings control the visibility of posts you make on Facebook from here on out. The settings include:
- Public: anyone, anywhere.
- Friends: only your Facebook friends.
- Only Me: this allows you to post something to Facebook for your own use only.
- Custom: you can specify specific people, groups, various lists, and more.
There are a couple of very important things to realize about this setting.
First, you can change it on each individual post you make, but it stays at what you last set it to. So, for example, if you set it to “Friends” here on the settings page, and then set it to “Public” for a specific post you make, it remains “Public” until you change it back.
Second, restricting access to something less than public, while certainly a reasonable choice, does not prevent those you share it with from further sharing your post in other ways. Specifically, there’s absolutely nothing that prevents them from taking a screen shot of your post and sharing that image publicly. You’ve probably seen screen shots of embarrassing public posts long after the original post has been taken down.
My approach is to leave this setting “Public” at all times. This serves as a reminder to me to only post things I’d be comfortable with truly being public.
Review all your posts and things you’re tagged in is just a shortcut to your Activity Log and Timeline review. This allows you to go back and view or change the visibility of your past actions.
Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or Public? This is a tool that allows you to make wholesale changes to everything you’ve shared in the past. With it, you can, for example, change all your previously public posts to be restricted to a smaller audience. I’ve never used this tool, nor would I recommend relying on it, simply because there’s no true way to truly “undo” something done publicly. Your post could have been copied, screen captured, or any number of other things that would have already taken it out of your control.
Who can contact me?
Anyone can message you if they can find you. This section focuses only on one setting.
Who can send you friend requests? This has exactly two settings: “Everyone” or “Friends of friends”. I have this set to “Friends of friends”. What you want will depend on exactly how you use Facebook. Fortunately, unwanted friend requests are easy to ignore.
Who can look me up?
This is perhaps more important than whether or not you’ll take friend requests. This section is all about how easy you want to be found on Facebook. Note that people still may be able to find you, even with these settings set to their most restrictive. This is about making it easier, or harder, to do so.
Who can look you up using the email address you provided? Possible settings are “Everyone”, “Friends of friends”, or just “Friends”. I figure that if someone knows my personal email address, I really don’t have a problem with them finding me on Facebook. Again, the setting you might choose will depend on exactly how you use Facebook.
Who can look you up using the phone number you provided? Possible settings again are “Everyone”, “Friends of friends”, or just “Friends”.
Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile? Put another way, do you want people to be able to find your Facebook profile on Google or Bing or other search engines?
Facebook Privacy Basics
Finally, as you may have noticed in the menu we started with, there’s currently an item called Privacy Basics at the bottom.
I recommend you take some time to review the information presented there.
If nothing else, the very wording of the Facebook mission is worth noting: “… make the world more open and connected.” To me this indicates their rationale behind making your default settings as open, public, and promiscuous as they are.