How to Adjust your Facebook Privacy Settings – 2012 Edition

The 2012 edition of Choose Privacy Week, the annual initiative of the American Library Association that invites the public into a national conversation about privacy rights in a digital age, is wrapping up (and don’t miss our special screening of the short documentary film “Big Brother, Big Business: The Data-Mining and Surveillance Industries” tomorrow at UW-Milwaukee!).

To close out the week, I’ve finally updated my quick guide for adjusting your Facebook privacy settings. Much has changed with the kinds of controls Facebook provides users, as well as what they let you control at all  (making the 2008 and 2009 versions highly outdated).

My new quick guide is not exhaustive — and Facebook’s help pages are actually quite helpful — but hopefully this can provide a starting point for controlling your privacy online. I especially recommend this for new and younger Facebook users. Details below, and a PDF handout is here.

Ways To Adjust Privacy Settings In Facebook

Have you been wondering how to be social on Facebook while still keeping your privacy under control? When you join a site like Facebook you take the chance of letting your private information run wild. By adjusting your privacy settings you’ll have more control over who sees what.

Dividing up your Friends

Is your mom really on the same level of friendship as your roommate? Is your boss on the same level as your drinking buddies? What to block certain content from an ex-boyfriend? Facebook allows you to organize your friends into different groups, which can later be used to determine who sees what.

To do this, go to There’s a button at the top that says “+ Create List.” Clicking it allows you to create a list of your choosing, then add any of your friends to it. You might make lists like “high school friends” or “family” or “co-workers” or “only the best friends”.

Once you’ve split up all your friends into different lists—what’s next?

Control Who Sees What you Post

Facebook allows you to control who can see what you post using a special “audience selector” drop down menu. With each status update, photo upload, or information shared, you can click on the small “drop down” arrow to select the specific audience: public, friends, only me, custom, or one of the friends lists you’ve previously created.

Control your Default Privacy

You can also set a default privacy level of all the things you share. To get to your privacy settings, click the account menu (small blue down arrow) at the top right of any Facebook page, and choose Privacy Settings. Here you can select the default setting for you posts: public, friends, or custom.

Choose “custom” in order to select particular friends lists as your default visibility settings. You can also exclude individual people from seeing status updates or photos.

From this same privacy settings page, you can control if people can find you on Facebook, whether people can tag you in photos, your advertising and app privacy, and even whether people can view past posts.

How You Connect

These settings determine how people can find or connect with you on Facebook, including who can search for you via email or phone number, who can send you friend requests, or who can send you Facebook messages. The most open setting is “Everyone”, and the most private is “Friends” only.

Timeline and Tagging

These are important settings to control who can tag you in posts and photos, and who can see those tags:

  • Who can post on your timeline?  This setting controls who is able to post on your own Wall and Timeline. The options are either “Friends” or “No one”.
  • Who can see what others post on your timeline? When someone else posts on your Wall, you can control whether all friends can see that content, or only certain lists.
  • Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timelineWhen a friend “tags” you in one of their own status updates, it will automatically appear in your own timeline, allowing your friends to view the item. You can change this setting so you must approve the tag before it will appear on your own wall.
  • Who can see posts you’ve been tagged in on your timeline?  This setting controls the visibility of any tags you’ve approved (or that are automatically approved).
  • Review tags friends add to your own posts on Facebook.  Sometimes a friend can add a tag to one of your own posts. These can be allowed automatically, or you can control and approve them with this setting.
  • Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?  Facebook has advanced facial recognition software, so if it thinks it sees your face in a photo uploaded by someone else, it might suggest tagging that photo with your name. You can turn this feature off, or make it available to your friends.

Apps, Games, and Websites

On Facebook, your name, profile picture, gender, networks, username and user id (account number) are always publicly available, including to apps. Also, by default, apps have access to your friends list and any information you choose to make public.

You can edit these settings to control what additional information is shared with apps, games, and websites. You can also turn on “Instant Personalization” which links your Facebook account to external website (like Pandora) to view relevant friend activity off of Facebook.

Public Search

From the same “Apps, Games, and Websites” settings page, you can control whether your Facebook profile is visible on search engines like Google. Turn this setting off if you don’t want your profile page listed in search engine results.

 For more detailed help and descriptions, please spend time on Facebook’s own help pages.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s