Facebook Privacy 101

When it comes to Facebook privacy standards, the platform has always been known to let users down. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that – since Facebook is a free service – they have to make money someway. And, usually, that involves leaking user data to third-party advertisers – a practice that dates back as far as 2010.

And that’s not even the worst bit – at least that data leak is intended. However, back in 2013, Facebook officially announced that a data breach (that took place over the course of one year) caused the platform to leak the personal details of around 6 million users (data that includes info like email addresses and phone numbers). Besides that, Facebook has been involved in a huge data breach (around 50 million accounts) too.

“Well, at least Facebook’s security is pretty good.” Yeah, we thought that too initially, but a white hat hacker recently showcased how cybercriminals can easily hack Facebook accounts. Fortunately, there are certain measures you can take to lower your risk of getting hacked, though.

“Okay, But How Can I Protect My Facebook Privacy Then?”

We’re going to walk you through the general settings you can adjust to enhance your privacy on Facebook. To access your settings, do the following:

  1. On any Facebook page, click on the drop-down menu icon (the inverted triangle icon in the top right).
  2. Click on “Settings.”
  3. Go to “General,” and then “Privacy” on the left.

On the “General” tab, there aren’t a lot of privacy tweaks to handle. Still, here are some things you can do:

  • “Name” – If you’re not comfortable having your real name on Facebook, you could always try using a “pen name” of sorts. Though, try to avoid using names that are clearly fake. Otherwise, your profile might get reported. A decent middle-ground would be to just use your middle name with a shortened surname.
  • “Username” – In case you don’t want your username to show up in your Facebook profile link, you can change that. You can even enter a random string of characters (just make you don’t use only numbers – Facebook doesn’t approve that).
  • “Contact” – If you’d rather not use your real phone number or email address as a “Primary Contact,” you can add an email address you don’t really use instead. Also, we recommend unchecking the box next to “Allow friends to include my email address in Download Your Information.”

Moving on, in the “Privacy” tab, our first order of business is the “Who can see your future posts?” setting. Basically, this is the option you use to decide which people can interact with your posts. Most users switch this setting to “Public” or “Friends.”

However, if you have certain friends on Facebook you don’t want to see your posts, you should switch it to “Friends except …” or “Specific friends” (if you only have a few Facebook friends you want to see your posts). If you ever want to make sure nobody but you can view your posts, you can just opt for the “Only me” setting.

Also, this is where you can use the Limit Past Posts feature. Basically, if you have a lot of past posts you want to make private, you can use this option to do it automatically. Thus, any past posts that were set to “Public” will only be shared with people who are in your “Friends” list.

Still, do keep in mind that any person that is tagged in a past post will still be able to see the content. If you want to change that, you’ll need to click on “Review all your posts and things you’re tagged in” to change the audience for the post in question.

Other than that, there are other options you should adjust:

  • “Who can send you friend requests?” – Unfortunately, Facebook allows only 2 options here: “Everybody” and “Friends of friends.” We recommend opting for the latter.
  • “Who can see your friends list?” – If you want to protect your friends’ Facebook privacy, you should choose the “Only me” option. You can also try the “Custom” option if you want to allow only certain people to view your contacts list.
  • “Who can look you up using the email address/phone number you provided?” – It’s best to set both settings to “Friends,” though it would have been better if it was possible to ensure nobody could do this.
  • “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?” – This is on by default, so you should turn it off. Just click on it, and uncheck the box at the bottom. This way, you don’t need to worry about your Facebook profile showing up in search engine results. Just keep in mind it might take a while for the search engines to update this info.

Now, those are basically the main privacy settings you can tweak for your Facebook profile. Besides them, there are also other things you should keep in mind:

Tag Suggestions

In the US, Facebook employs Tag Suggestions, a facial recognition-based algorithm which essentially encourages anyone who uploads a photo of you to tag you in the photo. Obviously, that can be quite annoying.

To turn off Tag Suggestions, here’s what you need to do:

  1. On your profile or any Facebook page, click on the drop-down menu icon on the top right.
  2. Click on “Settings.”
  3. Click on “Timeline and Tagging” on the left.
  4. Click on the “Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?” option (If it’s set to “unavailable,” it might because you’re not from the US, so you don’t need to worry about this).
  5. From the drop-down menu, disable this feature.

While we’re discussing this, we should also mention you can use the Tag Review feature to approve tag requests for your posts. Here’s how to turn it on:

  1. Click on the drop-down menu icon at the top of any Facebook page.
  2. Click on “Settings.”
  3. On the left, click on “Timeline and Tagging.”
  4. Look for the “Review tags people add to your own posts before the tags appear on Facebook?” option.
  5. Click on “Edit” next to it.
  6. Switch this feature to “Enabled.”

Also, remember that if you get tagged in any photos you don’t like, you can always untag yourself from them. What’s more, if you feel the photos endanger your privacy, you can also report them.

Platform API Sharing

By tweaking these settings, you’ll ensure your private info is not shared through Facebook’s API with other services. What’s more, this way, Facebook won’t receive notifications about how you use third-party apps or websites that use their tech.

Here’s how to handle this:

  1. Go to “Settings>Apps and Websites.”
  2. Click on “Edit” under “Apps, Websites, and Plugins.”
  3. Click on “Disable Platform.”

Doing this will disable all platform apps (like Farmville or Instagram), and you’ll no longer be able to sign into another website using Facebook.

In case you want to limit the info shared through Facebook’s API but also enjoy some more convenience, here’s an alternative thing you can do:

  1. Head over to “Settings>Apps and Websites.”
  2. Click “Edit” under “Apps Others Use.”
  3. Uncheck all the types of info you don’t want other apps to access.

While you’re at it, be sure to do the following too (if the options are displayed):

  • Click on “Edit” under “Game and App Notifications,” and click on “Turn Off.”
  • Under “Old Versions of Facebook for Mobile,” switch the setting to “Only Me.”

In case you’ve already shared your data with various apps, you can just remove them from your account – and you won’t even have to do it one by one anymore! Just head to “Settings>Apps and Websites,” click on the apps you want to remove, and then click on “Remove.”

Public Posts

If you do decide to keep your posts set to “Public,” you should know that there are still some tweaks you can do to enhance their privacy – yes, even in this state. All you need to do is go to “Settings>Public Posts.” From there, adjust the following:

  • “Who Can Follow Me” – It’s best to set it to “Friends,” so as to ensure strangers are not able to Follow your public posts.
  • “Public Post Comments” – The standard settings is set to “Public.” You should change it to “Friends” to make sure that only your contacts can comment on your public posts.
  • “Public Profile Info” – By default, only people in your “Friends” list can comment on your profile info and public profile photos. If the option isn’t set to “Friends,” we recommend doing it.

You can also turn off Public Post Notifications so that you aren’t spammed with notifications when people who aren’t in your “Friends” list follow your profile, and share, like, or comment on your posts. Though, it’s better to leave this setting on if you really want to keep track of things like that.

Facebook Ads

The fact that Facebook values ad revenue over your privacy is nothing new, and the platform is notoriously known to happily partner with third-party advertisers to spam users with “relevant” ads. But did you know that there are some measures you can actually take? For starters, head to “Settings>Ads.”

When you click on “Ads,” you will be taken to a new page where you can manage your privacy settings. First off, we have “Your Interests.” We highly recommend you go through each interest and remove them by clicking on the “X” icon. You can keep track of the “Interests” you removed under the “Removed interests” tab.

Under “Advertisers you’ve interacted with,” you should definitely remove any advertiser that pops up. Under “Whose ads you’ve clicked,” you can also report an advertiser if you want.

Moving on, we have the “Your information” section.  This is data advertisers use to target people based on their background info. You should drag the slider next to each piece of info (job title, relationship status, employer, and so on) to the “Off” position.

Also, the “Categories” section might contain a lot of info that advertisers can use to “reach out to you.” We advise removing it all.

Next on the list is the “Ad settings” tab. All in all, you’ve got 3 main options here:

  • “Ads based on your use of websites and apps” – Any website or app that relies on Facebook’s tech will share your browsing info with Facebook, and – in turn – they’ll target you with interest-based ads. To change that, switch the setting to “Off.”
  • “Ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook Companies” – Essentially, this means you’ll receive ads related to websites and apps that aren’t provided by Facebook. Why? Because these companies bought ads through Facebook. To get rid of this, just switch this setting to “No.”
  • “Ads with your social actions” – This feature lets Facebook target your friends with ads that are based on the actions you take on the platform. Quite annoying, right? Well, just switch this option to “No One” to protect your (and your friends’) Facebook privacy.

Lastly, you have the “Hide ad topics” section. The idea with this feature is that it allows you to hide ads about a specific topic either temporarily or permanently. However, the feature seems to be in a Beta or test mode, so only a few topics are available. In our case, we had the option to turn off ads permanently for topics such as “Alcohol” and “Parenting.

Please remember you might still see some ads even after tweaking all these settings. It’s just that they might not feel so intrusive now.

Privacy Checkup

Basically, this is a feature that lets you overview some of the privacy settings we’ve discussed above (not all, though). You should use it if you don’t want to go through each setting manually, as this process is more automated. Overall, with “Privacy Checkup,” you can quickly overview your Profile, App, and Post privacy settings, and make any changes you need.

Here’s how to use this feature:

  1. On any Facebook page, click on the “Help” icon (the small question mark icon in the top right).
  2. Click on “Privacy Checkup.”
  3. Follow the on-screen instructions, make any changes as necessary, and click on “Finish Up.”
  4. Click on “Close.”

Just please remember that this feature isn’t available on all devices yet.

Other Tips Worth Mentioning

  • Always turn off Facebook’s location tracking features.
  • If you don’t want people posting or seeing things on your timeline, go to “Settings>Timeline and Tagging>Timeline,” and set the “Who can post on your timeline?” and “Who can see what others post on your timeline?” options to “Only me.”
  • In case you need to take a break from Facebook, you can always deactivate your account instead of deleting it.
  • If you don’t want to be spammed with app invites and notifications, you can just block them. Just go to “Settings>Blocking” and adjust the “Block app invites” and “Block apps” options.
  • Remember to keep your operating system up-to-date. That, and use reliable anti-virus/malware software, as well as a reputable VPN when you’re online.
  • If anyone messages you with spammy-looking links or aggressive messages, you can (and should) always block and report them. You can also just block messages from anyone you want by going to “Settings>Blocking>Block messages.”
  • Do not post personal data and content on Facebook if it makes you feel uncomfortable knowing it’s on the platform.