A refresher course on Facebook privacy controls

Patrick Marshall

With over a billion active users recording the minutiae of their activities, purchases, travel plans, and other personal information, Facebook is a potential treasure trove for hackers and marketers trolling for data.

Facebook’s privacy settings seem to be a constantly moving target, so it’s important to review them from time to time. Here’s what you need to know.

The challenge of understanding Facebook privacy

Since its inception, Facebook has been — and often still is — criticized for its privacy controls. Well-publicized hacks of Facebook pages belonging to founder Mark Zuckerberg and the French president back in January 2011 didn’t help. For many users, Facebook privacy controls were either lacking or too difficult to wade through.

Fortunately, Facebook’s latest privacy-control enhancements are more accessible to the social site’s users. Unfortunately, many of the controls are disabled by default or set at their lowest threshold. And there’s still a bewildering array of privacy settings, scattered in different locations, that determine who can access information you’ve posted.

There’s one other frequently misunderstood fact about Facebook privacy: Because friends of your friends can see some of the things you post and tag — even if you’ve set more restrictive settings — you’re never sure just who is seeing what.

Review and change privacy via Privacy Shortcuts

Reviewing your Facebook privacy settings is important for understanding and controlling what personal information others — individuals and companies — can access on your page. The basic privacy settings are now easily accessed via the new Privacy Shortcuts tools, found under the lock icon to the right of your sign-in name.

Click the lock, and you’ll get a drop-down list of options, starting with one of the most basic settings: Who can see my stuff? Click its down-arrow, and the first configuration option is Who can see my future posts? (see Figure 1).

Privacy shortcuts

Figure 1. Facebook's Privacy Shortcuts gives you quick access to basic privacy settings.

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Patrick Marshall

About Patrick Marshall

Patrick Marshall is a regular technology columnist for The Seattle Times. He has also written for Government Computer News, InfoWorld, PC World, the Congressional Quarterly, and other publications.