How to Adjust your Facebook Privacy Settings

[NOTE: This post has been updated here.]

For Milwaukee’s OneWebDay celebration, we provided students instructions to help them adjust their privacy settings on Facebook. It seems that while Facebook does provide many controls for users to manage the flow of their personal information on the site, few of the students I talked with knew how to access them or how to use them. We created a nice instruction sheet (which can be downloaded as a PDF here), along with a website with relevant links.

Since we’ve been talking a lot about Facebook and privacy here lately, I thought I’d post these instructions on my blog as well. (More after the jump).

Facebook gives you the abilityto change your personal profile information privacy settings, photo and video privacy settings, control the flow of your personal data, and decide who can contact you or see/search for your profile and who can’t.

Start adjusting your Facebook privacy settings by going to the privacy settings page. Move your mouse over the word “Settings” in the upper right part of your Facebook page, and select “Privacy Settings” from the menu that will appear (see image at the top of this blog post). Now you’re ready to start making your privacy settings more, or less, secure.

Let’s walk through 8 key sections for adjusting your privacy on Facebook: the visibility of your profile, your photos, your personal & contact information, your visibility on Web search engines like Google, how people can contact you, who can read items in your News Feed or on your Wall, how Facebook Applications might access your data, and Facebook’s Beacon advertising platform.

1.    Your Profile
Go to: Privacy Settings → Profile → Basic

Here you can adjust who is able to see your profile information. You have five choices: My Networks and Friends, Only People at your Primary Network and Friends, Friends of Friends, Only Friends, or you can create customized settings. The parts of your profile you can change privacy settings for here are:

•    Profile
•    Basic Info
•    Personal Info
•    Status Updates
•    Photos Tagged of You
•    Videos Tagged of You
•    Friends
•    Wall Posts
•    Education Info
•    Work Info

2.    Your Photos
Go to: Privacy Settings → Profile → Basic → Edit Photo Albums Privacy Settings

Here you can edit privacy settings for each photo album you have on your Facebook profile individually. Every single photo can have it’s privacy settings changed separately. Choose to have everyone see your photo album, only networks and friends, friends of friends, only friends or you can customize your privacy settings for each photo album.

(Sorry. The original version of this post erroneously stated you could edit settings for each photo. You can only change settings for an album, not an individual photo.)

3.    Your Personal & Contact Information
Go to: Privacy Settings → Profile → Contact Information

Here you can adjust who can see your personal and contact information. You may want to go change this one right now. These are things like:

•    IM Screen Name
•    Mobile Phone Number
•    Other Phone Number
•    Current Address
•    Your Website
•    Your Residence
•    Your Email Addresses

4.    Your Search Engine Visibility
Go to: Privacy Settings → Search

These privacy settings will determine who can search for and find you on Facebook. If you leave the choice at “anyone” then everyone can find you on Facebook.

You can also choose to have a public version of your Facebook profile created so people can find you using search engines like Google or Yahoo.

5.    Your Contact Information
Go to: Privacy Settings → Search

When you want your Facebook profile to be private then you need to change some of these privacy settings. They determine what someone can see when they come across your Facebook profile, but are not yet your friends. They also make it so non-friends can contact you, or make is so they can’t. These are the privacy settings you have under contact information:

•    See Your Picture
•    Send You a Message
•    Add You As a Friend
•    View Your Friend List

6.    Your News Feed and Wall
Go to: Privacy Settings → News Feed and Wall

Here you can control which of your actions are displayed in your News Feed and on your Wall.

7.    Your Applications
Go to: Privacy Settings → Applications

This is how Facebook describes the way Applications interact with your personal information. Please take the time to read it, and adjust the settings for individual applications as necessary (perhaps even deleting some altogether):

  1. Whenever you or your friends visit an application, Facebook allows it to access only the information that is available in your public search listing (your name, networks, profile picture, and friend list). To control how the above information is distributed to Applications, use the Search Privacy page
  2. When you “authorize” an application, it will be able to access any information associated with your account that it requires to work. The application can access information like your personal info and photos as well as your friends’ personal info (depending on their settings). All platform applications are obligated to respect all of your existing privacy settings when requesting this information and when displaying it to other users. To control which applications are authorized, visit the Applications page.
  3. When a friend of yours visits an application or authorizes it, the information that the application can access includes your friend’s friend list and friends’ info. Thus it can access some information about you. Please note that applications are obligated only to act upon the request of your friend and must respect all of your existing privacy settings. To control which types of information is available to friends through applications, please visit the Settings tab on this page. If you believe an application is violating Facebook’s privacy policies, please report it immediately.

8.    Beacon
Go to: Privacy Settings → Applications → Settings

Facebook’s Beacon system automatically posts information about things you do and purchase on external, third-party websites to your News Feed. You can turn this on/off here.

Finally, everyone should add the Privacy application, a slick Facebook app that provides insight into the personal information applications can access when you add them (whether it is to give a vampire bite or to claim your love for the Packers). Here’s the official description:

  • Aware of what private information you expose when using applications in Facebook?
  • Did you know that applications your friends use might also see some of your private information?
  • With less than 30 applications in the Application Directory developed by Facebook how much of your information is available to third parties?
  • Like to see what some of this information is?

Install it here.You’ll be amazed as to what information you’re giving out to these third parties, with little in return.

[NOTE: This post has been updated here.]


  1. How about a Step 9? … Once you see how much of your personal information you have been sharing through Facebook platform apps, remove all of those apps, then disable Facebook platform.

  2. Excellent description, Michael! I added a link here to the in-progress Wired Howto wiki page on Facebook activism.

    It really is appalling how difficult Facebook makes it for users who want to adjust their privacy. Of course people who want to control their individual settings will always have to do a lot of poking around, but the absence of a one-stop shop where somebody can choose high/medium/low/none is a glaring oversight.

  3. Facebook is in somewhat of a catch-22 here. At first, their privacy controls were very limited and failed to provide users with sufficient means to manage the flow of their personal information. But now that Facebook offers much more granular controls, combined with the increased scope of the kind of personal information housed on FB, users are confronted with an immensely complex set of privacy options.

    Our task is to: (a) work with Facebook to help them improve the presentation and usability of their privacy controls, and (b) educate users on how to take advantage of these controls to manage the flow of their personal information.

  4. Loved the article. Posted it for my friends to read on face book. Found it from the 2,000,000 users against new face book layout. I wrote an article on it several months back about the old face book and how to adjust settings.


  5. Great article. Thanks. Now, any chance you can change Facebook back to the old one, or at least the option to choose? There are over 2.7m people who are wanting this. Why are you ignoring their requests??

  6. @ Robert & Lianna: Are you actually asking me about changing Facebook’s new design layout? And suggesting I’m ignoring such requests? Perhaps you are confused, as I am not affiliated with Facebook nor have any such influence. While I sympathize with your concerns, your message isn’t hitting the intended target here.

  7. Michael—
    I noticed that you that “Every single photo can have it’s privacy settings changed separately.” I can’t seem to find a way to do this; I’ve only been able to secure individual albums. I’d like to be able to control access to individual pictures without compromising the whole album. Also…can I control my friends’ access to photos that have been tagged of me?
    Thanks so much! This article was LOADS of help, and I forwarded to all of my friends—especially those with corporate jobs.

  8. @ Sunny:

    Glad you found this helpful.

    I’m sorry for the error in my original post; you are correct that you can only adjust privacy settings for particular albums, not individual photos. I will correct that passage.

    If you want to control particular photos, unfortunately you’ll need to move them into separate albums to create fine-tuned privacy controls.

    Regarding photos uploaded by others that are tagged with you, there is a global setting to control who can see those photos. Go to Privacy Settings → Profile → Basic and the option is called “Photos Tagged of You”.

    The only granular control for individual tagged photos is the complete removal of the tag: Go to the photo page, and there is a “remove tag” option next to your name in the photo’s caption.

    Hope this helps.

  9. yes I’m agree with sunny. I really want my old facebook layout back..can you show me the way how to make it? I don’t know that way.huhu T T help me please.

  10. I am unable to “find friends” on Facebook. When I enter my password, it says it is incorrect. What’s wrong? I am able to do everything else in Facebook though.

  11. It would be great to have clear, concise and parctical advice on how to apply different access/privacy settings to different Friend Lists. Right now the controls are scattered all over and are quire unintuitive to set.

  12. Why don’t I get all my FB messages when I log in? A friend sent me two messages, I received them through my email. When I went into FB, through a tiresome search, found one of the messages, but never did find the second one. If the message had not been in my email, I would not have been aware of it at all. What can I do about this. The same friend said she finally saw that I had posted more pictures but she would not have been aware of them had she not gone into my profile. Help.

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