Understanding Facebook’s Privacy Settings

There is a lot of talk around in the news and among groups of people about the privacy of your information online and in particular, concerns over Facebook Privacy.

The interesting thing is that very few people seem to know how to adjust the settings to ensure that your facebook profile and information you share on facebook is protected from the public eye.

What concerns me is that many of us, including teenagers, are on Facebook with profiles that are partially or fully open to public search.

It is a big topic, and over the time it has taken me to write this blog post, there has been even more in the News about Facebook Privacy, Facebook itself has put out some new help (see their Family Safety Centre) and other advice-articles have been written.

So here in this article I give you step-by-step instructions on adjusting yours and your family’s Facebook Settings to give maximum privacy.

Why is this important – many reasons, and probably different priorities for different people, but the 3 biggies are:

  1. Identity theft – strangers knowing enough about you to pretend to be you
  2. The wrong people knowing about your movements – when you go on holiday and a recent big purchase – are 2 things that in the wrong “hands” can lead to problems eg. theft.
  3. Future recruitment – social media is the first place that recruiters/potential employers will go to find out more about you.

If your Facebook is only available to Friends (that is: your real friends) then you have more chance of keeping your private life private.   If the settings are not set to Friends Only, there will many things that EVERYONE/ANYONE in the world can see about you, depending on what information you have entered into Facebook, including: Photographs, Where you live, Your interests, Likes (including if you have liked a silly comment or phrase that has been set up by an unknown third-party).


Step by Step Guide to Protecting your Privacy
  1. Go into ACCOUNT on the right hand side of your Profile
  3. Go into VIEW MY PROFILE to see how you are viewed by anyone who is not your Friend
  4. Go back into PRIVACY SETTINGS

Here there are actually 2 separate sections:  Connecting and Sharing (see screenshot below)


Work your way down the list

Of course it is up to you how much you want to share with the world.   Everyone is different and has different standards on what they like to keep private.

Note Everyone = Public.



  • Search for you on Facebook – Everyone
  • Send you friend requests – Everyone
  • Send you messages – this means someone can send you a private message via the Facebook message system. It is good for when you find someone and you want to say hello, reconnect before sending a friend request. There is the potential for spamming here, but I personally haven’t encountered it.   So I leave this as Everyone, however for your teenager, I would suggest you set these to Friends Only
  • See your Friends List – definately should be set to Friends Only – protect your friend’s privacy and don’t let Everyone see who is your friend.
  • See your education and work – good if you want people to find you based on previous jobs.  I prefer to keep this private to friends only and remember, if you don’t write anything into these sections, then of course it remains private to you. If you have your own business, this is a good place to add in your company name and make it Everyone – that way, someone can find your business Page and connect with you there, keeping your personal profile for just friends
  • Hometown and likes, activities etc – I also prefer this to be Friends Only and as above, you don’t need to even write anything into these sections if you are concerned about privacy.

6.  SHARING ON FACEBOOK Select CUSTOM, Customise Settings and then work your way through

Things I share

Make all Friends Only, except set Website as Everyone if you are in business

Now, here’s a tricky one you would easily miss – at the bottom of the Things I Share sections is a hyperlink called “Edit Privacy settings for existing photo albums and videos”. Click on this… I was shocked to find that some old albums and photos of mine were set at Everyone! Take the time to go through every album and change all to Friends Only

Things others share

Tagging of photos – this is a biggie, particularly for future employers and those party shots you didn’t know were being taken. Click Edit Settings and change to Friends Only!

A note on this – isn’t it better that you are on Facebook and can see photos of yourself (you can only be tagged in a photo if you are a FB user), so you can control the distribution of said photos (as much as possible). FB lets you know when you are tagged in a photo.


Whether you enable or disable Suggest Photos of me to Friends is up to you

Enable: Friends can post on my Wall – as long as you are checking your profile regularly Disable: Friends can check me in to Places

Contact information – Definately make your address and emails Friends only, unless you want your email public.  Of course you can always leave that contact information off altogether.

Once again, do not feel like you have to fill in every box on Facebook. If you are worried about Privacy, don’t write it in!

7.  Now click on VIEW PROFILE again, to see how the public (non-friends) see your Profile – ideally you should just see your Photo, Name, Sex and nothing else.  You can now see the difference from when you clicked on this in Step 3

8.  Go into Privacy Settings – Apps, Games and Websites, and work your way through those settings. Particularly, Apps you Use – remove them if you don’t want to use them anymore.

You will be surprised when you go into each of the Apps’ Edit Settings and see what they actually are able to access and have accessed about you!

9.  Now go into your PROFILE and click the EDIT PROFILE button on the top left hand side. This is where you can add or delete information about yourself that you would rather not share.   I tend to ask myself if there is a benefit to people/friends knowing this information?  Referring back to my comments above about Apps, the more information you put here in your profile, the more info that a 3rd party App can obtain about you.

Personally I don’t feel that my current city, hometown, languages or for that matter anything about previous work, schools, family etc, is that relevant to my user-experience with Facebook or that it adds any value to my friends (they already know me). But of course that is up to you.

Date of Birth – you will note that you have the option to not have your birthday show in your Profile, or to have just the month and day if you want people to wish you happy birthday, but not necessarily know your age :)

As is human-nature, you will tend to get many birthday wishes from your Friends when your birthday week rolls around and all your friends are prompted that you are celebrating your birthday this week.  This is rather nice really, unless you are private and don’t wish people to know when your birthday is.

A funny story – I have a friend who was very concerned about her privacy and when set up her Facebook Profile she put a false date of birth, actually just a few days prior to her real birthdate. Come that date, her lovely friends all wished her a lovely day and she even received some flowers from a thoughtful colleague – most embarrassing and a little lonely a few days later when her real birthday came around!

For self-employed/business owners:

Under Employers – here you can add your logo and your web address.

And under Contact Information ensure you add your websites, including your Facebook Page url, Twitter url, LinkedIn url, if you wish.

10.  REVIEW YOUR FRIENDS - do not feel that you have to accept every friend request that you receive.  Given the nature of Facebook and the sharing of your personal-life, it is good practice to keep your Friends to real-Friends.  It seems to me that it is pretty impossible for a teenager to have accumulate 500+ acquaintances and friends in a short 15 years of life!  It is a good idea to take some time and sit down with your teenager and review the friend list and remove anyone who is not or no longer a “friend”.  This a good video clip on accepting friend requests.

On the topic of Facebook for teenagers, a social media manager colleague has posted a good article about Safety Rules for Kids on Facebook which has some great insights and guidelines to ensure your teen’s online safety and reputation.

Another good article to read for further information on privacy plus security setting of “https” is this one from mashable.com


Well, this has turned out to be a very long blog-post (thanks for reading!).  I do believe it is important to get the Privacy Settings right from the outset and then you can be confident in your use of Facebook and enjoy it for what it is meant to be for – connecting and interacting with friends and your favourite brands and receiving information that you want to hear about :)

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