Facebook Provides Some Control of Friends List Visibility, But Hides It

One of the most controversial aspects of Facebook’s recent privacy upgrade downgrade has been the removal of the privacy setting allowing users to limit the visibility of their list of friends.

Perhaps more than any other set of information on Facebook, one’s social graph (the technical term for one’s network of friends) has the appearance of being non-personal information. It’s just a list of friends, after all. But numerous studies have shown the power of using social graphs to re-identify people in “anonymous” datasets, determine an individual’s sexual orientation, and so on.

Despite this, Facebook felt users’ friends lists should now be made publicly available because, you know, Zuckerberg believes “that what we’re doing is a good thing in the world”. Not everyone agreed, and as a result, Facebook made what appears to be a concession to ensure users do have some control of their friends list visibility.

There’s only one problem: the 3rd law of social networking, which states “Provide some privacy controls, but make it hard.”

When Facebook unleashed its widespread privacy upgrade downgrade, it promised to make its privacy controls “easy, intuitive and accessible.” So, when I heard that Facebook decided to allow me to again hide my friends list, I — logically — when to the privacy settings page to make that change. After about 15 minutes of searching through all the redesigned pages, I realized that no such “easy, intuitive and accessible” setting existed.

Instead, I re-read Facebook’s announcement of this minor tweak to its new privacy paradigm, and realized that the only way for users to limit the visibility to their friends list is to do the following:

  1. Go to your profile page
  2. Find the “Friends” box in the left-hand column
  3. Click on the little pencil icon at the top of the box
  4. Uncheck “Show my friends on my profile”

This apparently is Facebook’s version of making this privacy setting “easy, intuitive and accessible”. It hides it within a little control panel that I didn’t even know existed in the little friends box on the left panel of my profile that I never previously interacted with.

And by the way, while all your other privacy variables allow multiple and customizable visibility settings, your friends list is simply binary: visible on your profile to everyone, or to no one.

And finally, no matter what you select here, Facebook still considers your friends list “publicly available“, and therefore it will always be visible to third-party applications.



  1. ‘friends’ list is only visible to those who are permitted to see one’s profile, then, correct? i keep my profile to ‘friends’ only. at least, i *think* i do…

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