How to Adjust your Facebook Privacy Settings – 2009 Edition

Last year, as part of Milwaukee’s 2008 OneWebDay celebration, I posted guidelines to help users adjust their Facebook privacy settings. This has been one of the most visited pages on my blog.

Now that we’re getting ready for the 2009 OneWebDay event, I thought it would be prudent to update these guidelines. Updated instructions, and helpful tips, are provided below.

Thanks to Rebecca Hall, who again created a nice flier that you can download as a PDF here. Feel free to copy and distribute to your friends, family, students, neighbors, etc.


When you join a site like Facebook you take the chance of making your private information run wild, available to friends, family, distant acquaintances, and even third-party application developers. By adjusting your privacy settings you’ll have more control over who sees what.

Facebook has provided detailed controls allowing you to change your personal profile information privacy settings, photo and video privacy settings, keep your personal information secure, and decide who can contact you or see your profile and who can’t.

Start adjusting your Facebook privacy settings by going to the privacy settings page in your Facebook account page. Now you’re ready to start making your privacy settings more, or less, secure.

Levels of Access

Facebook generally offers five different levels of access to your account information:

  • Everyone: Everyone on Facebook can see your information….everyone
  • My Networks and Friends: All of the people in all of your networks (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, for example), as well as all your friends, can see your information
  • Your Primary Network and Friends: Only people in your primary network, as well as all your friends, can see your information
  • Friends of Friends: All your friends, and all of their friends (whether you friended them or not) can see your information
  • Only Friends: Only people you have friended can see your information

Facebook also allows you to create customized settings, where you can isolate only certain friends to see information, or exclude certain friends, or make it viewable only to you.

TIP: Use the customized settings to exclude certain people (family members, ex-boyfriends, etc) from viewing your status updates, photos, etc.

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

Adjust who can see your basic profile information. 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

TIP: Use the “Only Friends” setting to keep in touch with your friends, but protect your information from people you don’t know. Most people like to keep their “Photos Tagged of You” on tighter privacy controls, so only certain friends can see photos tagged with you from parties, etc.

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

Adjust who can see your personal contact information, including:

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

TIP: Change these privacy settings NOW. Think hard before your make your phone number or physical address available to anyone on Facebook (your real life friends should already have this information, right?).

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

Edit privacy settings for each photo album you have on your Facebook profile. Each album can have its own separate privacy settings. Choose to have everyone see the photos in your album, only networks and friends, friends of friends, only friends or you can customize your privacy settings for each album.

TIP: Use different albums for different privacy settings. For example, keep your more sensitive photos in an album that only certain friends can see with customized privacy settings, and keep photos for your family members in a different album with more open access.

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

These privacy settings will determine who can search for you and find you within Facebook. If you leave “Search Visibility” set to “everyone” then anyone searching in Facebook can find you. If you want your Facebook profile to be private (meaning no one can find you, only you send friend requests to others) then you need to change this to “Friends Only”.

You can also determine what someone can see when they come across your Facebook profile, but are not yet your friend, including your profile picture, your current friends, and what pages you are a fan of. You can also decide whether to include a link to be contacted or added as a friend by people who search for your profile.

You can also choose to have your Facebook profile discoverable by outside search engines, like Google, if you really want to be found.

TIP: If you don’t want to be found by random Web searchers, consider turning OFF your public search listing.

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

You can control what items appear in your News Feed and on your Wall, such as when you comment on someone’s note or photo, change your relationship status, or add a friend.

TIP: Turn these off if you want to hide some of your Facebook actions. Note that your News Feed won’t ever show that you’ve read items, viewed photos, rejected friends, or deleted items.

6.    Your Name in Facebook Ads
Go to: Privacy Settings → News Feed and Wall → Facebook Ads

If you become a “fan” of certain pages, groups or products (for example, Green Bay Packers or The Office), your name might appear in Facebook Ads for those pages or products.

TIP: Some people turn this off if they don’t want to appear in advertising or seem like they are specifically endorsing a product.

7.    Your Applications
Go to: Privacy Settings → Applications

When you authorize an Application (such as SuperPoke, Mafia Wars or Causes), it will be able to access information associated with your account. The application can access information like your personal info and photos as well as your friends’ personal info (depending on their settings). 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 information about the people on that list, including you.

To control which types of information are available to friends through applications, please visit the Settings tab on this page.

All 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 through the link in the lower left corner of the Facebook screen. Each application has its own settings.

TIP: Think hard about what applications you want to add. Even though many apps are simple and fun, their creators gain access to much of your information, which could be sold to marketers, etc.

Other Helpful Links


  1. Valuable and clear advice that should be read by all the users. Two points two mention: If I get this cnet article ( about the recent changes of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities right (I haven’t had the chance to read the changes yet), posting to “everyone” means now posting to the internet and not just to all the FB users.
    Second, as soon as European FB users set publication wider than friends, they are considered data controllers and have to comply with the data protection legislation (opinion of the EU Article 29 Data Protection Working Party on online social networking).

  2. Nice work.

    Your description of “everyone” is inconsistent with Facebook’s proposed new terms of service, though, which describe everyone as the entire Internet, though I think Facebook has been quite unclear on this point. Not sure how much difference this makes in practice.

  3. Clarification needed… The PDF says that: “Edit privacy settings for each photo album you have on your Facebook profile. Each album can have its own separate privacy settings.
    Choose to have everyone see your photo, only networks and friends, friends of friends, only friends or you can customize your privacy
    settings for each photo.”

    I haven’t been able to figure out how to change the settings for each PHOTO, just the photo album. When you say “you can customize… for each photo” do you mean each album? If not, how does one find the settings for an individual photo?

  4. Thanks A lot, For Such nice information about Facebook, I seriously get benefited from that, security of your facebook profile is major concern…because there are millions of people around you and you cannot make your profile visible to everyone. These features provide me a great security using which i can enhance security level of my website…

    Thanks A Ton!!

  5. Michael – I actually want “everyone” to be able to view my photo albums (for marketing purposes). However, even though I saved the privacy settings for the albums permitting everyone to see them, only friends can see them. I can’t seem to figure out what the problem is here. Any help? Thanks.

  6. Matt P: Hmm…I just tried that too. Even after setting an individual album’s visibility to “everyone”, it wasn’t visible as you experienced. I’ll dig into it…

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