Rants on business, science, technology, society, politics, police, and justice, plus life hacks and tricks, since 2003. header image 2

2010 Facebook Privacy Guide

April 23rd, 2010 · No Comments

If you are reading this, then you probably already have a Facebook account, and you probably are complicit in sharing your personal information with the world whether you mean to or not. This guide will address some Facebook privacy settings and how we recommend you set them for maximum privacy control.

This article was spurned by the new “Instant Personalization” feature which we’ll touch on in a bit, but what it boils down to is that you can basically assume anything you put on Facebook is visible to the world regardless of your privacy settings. Before you post anything to Facebook, ask yourself, “Am I comfortable publishing this to the world now and forever?” With Facebook allowing more eyes on profiles than ever before – especially eyes of big business – it’s more important than ever to watch what you share.

Of course, before we continue, lest we forget: the number one way to maintain your privacy on Facebook is to not join at all. Yet even if you don’t join, your friends are free to tag you with your real name in photos et al, creating the Facebook privacy paradox. As mentioned earlier, this guide assumes you already have a Facebook account, but you want to lock it down from snooping eyes or perhaps just want to get a better understanding of Facebook’s privacy settings.

Getting Started

  1. Log in to Facebook
  2. In the upper right corner, click “Account”
  3. From the drop-down menu, click “Privacy Settings”

You will see five menu options in which to set privacy settings:

  • Profile Information – Control who can see your profile and who can post to your Wall
  • Contact Information – Control who can contact you on Facebook and see your contact information and email
  • Applications and Websites – Control what information is available to Facebook-enhanced applications and websites
  • Search – Control who can see your search result on Facebook and in search engines
  • Block List – Control who can interact with you on Facebook

Profile Information

We recommend that everything in this section be set to “Only Friends” since this is essentially the bulk of the personal information volunteered when creating a profile.

  • Bio – Bio refers to the Bio description in the About Me section of your profile – Only Friends
  • Likes and Interests – Interests, Activities, Favorites – Only Friends
  • Birthday – Birth date and Year – Only Friends
  • Religious and Political ViewsOnly Friends
  • Family and Relationship – Family Members, Relationship Status, Interested In, and Looking For – Only Friends
  • Education and Work – Schools, Colleges and Workplaces – Only Friends
  • Photos and Videos of Me – Photos and Videos you’ve been tagged inĀ  – Only Friends
  • Photo Albums – (see below)
  • Posts by Me – Default setting for Status Updates, Links, Notes, Photos, and Videos you post – Only Friends
  • Allow friends to post on my Wall – (see below)
  • Posts by Friends – Control who can see posts by your friends on your profile – Only Friends
  • Comments on Posts – Control who can comment on posts you create – Only Friends

Friends can post on my Wall

This is really up to you. Disabling it removes a big part of the social aspect of Facebook, but Facebook wall drama happens often enough that you may want to consider disabling it.

Photo Albums

Clicking “Edit Settings” brings you to the Photo Privacy page. Every gallery should be set to “Only Friends”.
Back to top

Contact Information

Assuming you are comfortable sharing your contact information with just about everyone you know and have ever added as a Facebook friend, then “Only Friends” settings should be appropriate here as well. Of course, you might want to not share this information at all!

This section also holds two settings that when set to “Everyone” do not significantly impact privacy – “Add me as a friend” and “Send me a message”. Enabling these features globally does not give any additional information away, although you may receive some friend request spam from time to time. Simply deny any spam friend requests or spam messages when this does happen. Setting “Add me as a friend” to “Friends of friends” may significantly impact the number of legitimate friend requests you can receive – or it may not.

  • IM Screen NameOnly Friends
  • Mobile PhoneOnly Friends
  • Other PhoneOnly Friends
  • Current AddressOnly Friends
  • WebsiteOnly Friends
  • HometownOnly Friends
  • Add me as a friend – Control who can add you as a friend from search results and from your profile – Everyone
  • Send me a message – Control who can send you a message from search results and from your profile – Everyone
  • EmailsOnly Me for work email addresses, Only Friends for personal email

Back to top

Applications and Websites

This section gets a little bit tricky, so before we proceed, a quick primer on Facebook Applications and your privacy: if you care about your privacy, avoid Facebook applications like the plague! To be fair, only one application has ever been compelling enough for me to install – Graffiti – and even that seems to be mostly unused these days. Applications installed to your profile reveal your “publicly available information” almost as much as adding a friend. This includes your Name, Profile Picture, Gender, Current City, Networks, Friend List, and Pages – so choose wisely.

What you share

  • Click “Learn More” on the Application and Websites privacy page
  • Click “You can view the full list of Applications you have authorized on this page.”
  • Click “X” to remove any application which you absolutely cannot live without

You’re not done yet! Each application has its own privacy settings. Quite a hassle!

  • Click “Edit settings” for every application and set the main privacy setting to Only Friends

Depending on how you like to use your wall, you may also want to go through each application’s settings once more to check the “Additional Permissions” section and enabling or disabling “Publish content to my Wall”.

What your friends can share about you

  • Click “Edit Settings” on the Application and Websites privacy page
  • Uncheck every option
  • Save changes

Blocked Applications

Blocking specific applications from accessing your information is pretty much irrelevant since it would be futile to block every application! Your friends will be revealing your “publicly available information” anyway any time they use an application. This is a great reason to not use Facebook at all, but most people would consider that a drastic, despite the severe implications. However, it can’t hurt to block applications that you aren’t interested in

Ignore Application Invites

This feature is useful if you have an aunt that constantly invites you to play farm simulators.

Activity on Applications and Games Dashboards

  • Set this to Only Friends

Instant Personalization

This is the “flavor of the week” privacy issue that was the inspiration for this guide. This “feature” allows big business partners to see your “publicly available information” when you visit their websites. In a nutshell, this means these websites will know your name and interests any time you visit their websites. Creepy!

  • Click “Edit Setting” on the Application and Websites privacy page
  • Uncheck “Allow select partners to instantly personalize their features with my public information when I first arrive on their websites.”

While we’re here, take note of the fine print on this page:

Please keep in mind that if you opt out, your friends may still share public Facebook information about you to personalize their experience on these partner sites unless you block the application.
If you are scratching your head wondering how you’re supposed to block applications if you don’t even know about them, you’re not alone. Thanks, Facebook. As of this story’s publication, Facebook does not enumerate all the applications you must block in order to fully opt-out of instant personalization, but you can block the three applications known to use it so far:
  • Microsoft Docs – Click “Block application”
  • Pandora – Click “Block application”
  • Yelp – Click “Block application”

Back to top


  • Facebook Search Results – Who can see your search result on Facebook – Only Friends
  • Public Search Results – Create a public search listing so others can see a preview of your Facebook profile on search engines – Uncheck

For most people, these settings are adequate. You can still be found by new friends, but they will be able to see next to nothing about you. The Public Search Results page are useless for just about everyone, unless these is some specific reason you want a Facebook results page. For example, if you were trying to manage the top 10 Google search engine results when searching for your own name.
Back to top

Block List

This is pretty much self-explanatory. This allows you to block ex’s, bosses, me, and other people you have no interest in socializing with.

One interesting thing about the block list is that the once a person is blocked, the blocked person cannot block you back – so if you are not friends with someone, but are not blocked, and then you block someone, that person would not be able to block you since your block on them is reciprocated. However, this means you can block someone that would otherwise block you, and delete the block momentarily to view their public profile, then add the block back. They would not be able to block you except for the duration of that moment they were unblocked.
Back to top


Facebook privacy settings are a hassle. Facebook privacy is an oxymoron, after all. Unfortunately, this guide will be almost immediately obsolete thanks to Facebook’s policy to make every new feature automatically opt-in. One thing you might have noticed is that almost every Only Friends setting also allowed Customize as a choice. Using friend lists, you can fine tune the information available on your profile, but a tutorial on friend lists could occupy its own article.

Remember, if you really want to keep something private, it doesn’t belong on Facebook – or the Internet – at all.

Back to top

Tags: Computers · My Thoughts · Technology

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment