FacebookIt will take you under ten minutes to tailor Facebook’s privacy settings to your personal and professional needs. Yet Facebook estimates that only twenty percent of its members use the privacy settings at all. This post describes the essential steps you can take on Facebook to protect your identity, your privacy, and your reputation online.

Step One: Start by creating “lists” of your friends (Family, Friends, Professional) in accordance with what information you wish to reveal to them. You can always add people to these lists. For advice on creating your friend lists, read Alison Driscoll’s post on Mashable, “Facebook Fail: How to Use Facebook Privacy Settings and Avoid Disaster.

Step Two: Go the “Settings” link in the upper right hand corner of the Facebook main screen and click on “Privacy Settings.” You’ll see four privacy options: “Profile,” “Search,” “News Feed and Wall,” and “Applications.” Click on “Profile.”

Step Three: The default setting for your “Profile” is that everything is visible to “only friends.” Here is where your friend lists come in handy. If you do not want certain information available to a friend list, go to the drop-down menu, click “customize,” specify “only friends” and type into the “except these people” box the friend list you want to exclude.


Step Four: Then go to “Search.” The default for your “Search” setting is a search visibility of “everyone.” Facebook automatically creates a public search listing for you on sites like Google. Uncheck the public search listing box. Restrict your search visibility within Facebook from “everyone” to “only friends” or “friends of friends.” Remove the Pages you are a fan of and your friend list from your search visibility. Knowing who a person’s friends are can be valuable information to marketers, employers, credit rating agencies, insurers, and spammers.


Step Five: Now go to “News Feed and Wall.” The default for your “News Feed and Wall” setting is that all of your friends are notified if you change relationship status, post on someone’s wall, comment on a photo, etc. If there is any information that you would not want to disclose to friends, uncheck that box.


Step Six: Then click on the “Social Ads” tab under “News Feed and Wall.” By default, Facebook occasionally uses your name in conjunction with advertisements, as in “Joe is a fan of Diet Coke.” Configure your appearance in social ads to “no one.”


Step Seven: Now go to “Applications.” Click on “Settings.” Certain Facebook Platform applications data mine the profiles of people’s friends on Facebook for public information. For example, the Your True Self application searches through public information on your friends’ profiles to guess your political affiliation and give you movie suggestions. Choose what information you want publicly searchable by these Platform applications. The default setting is complete searchability.


Step Eight: Under the “Settings” link in the upper right hand corner of the Facebook main screen click on “Application Settings.” Then go to the drop down menu for “show” and click on “authorized” so that you see a list of all applications that you have authorized to use on Facebook. Facebook automatically authorizes certain applications, like Notes, Photos, and Events, for your profile. For each application, follow these steps. Click on “Edit Settings.” On the “Wall” tab limit which stories can be published by that application on your behalf and without your knowledge. Click “Never publish any stories” or “Prompt me.” On the “Profile” tab, click on the privacy dropdown menu and customize the privacy settings for each application using your friend lists.


You did it. Facebook settings for a professional in (hopefully) under ten minutes.

Before you start posting (more) photos, links and text to your Facebook profile, keep in mind that even with all of the above-mentioned privacy settings, Facebook is not as private or as secure as one would hope.

  • Facebook still has occasional, albeit rare, privacy bugs. TechCrunch found one on March 20, 2009, where for a few hours, users were allowed to gain access to portions of their friends’ profiles that they should not have been able to see.
  • Content viewed on Facebook may remain viewable in cached or archived pages if users copy or store the content, a situation you acknowledge in signing off on Facebook’s Terms and Conditions.
  • There are still no privacy controls over comments on Facebook. You will receive a notification if someone posts a comment on a photo but it will have been too late – the comment will have already been published for all of your friends to see.
  • Your friends can still post pictures of you on Facebook and “tag” them with your name, even if you change your settings so that your friends do not get a notification when you are tagged (see “Profile” setting defaults above). The photos will still be there unless your friends take the photos down. So stay away from friends with digital cameras at rowdy parties.
  • Several courts in the United States and elsewhere have held that private Facebook profiles are discoverable. Be aware if you are involved in civil or criminal legal proceedings that your Facebook profile (as well as any blogs, websites, or other online content) may be fair game for opposing counsel.

Now that you have tailored your Facebook privacy settings for your personal and professional needs, go have fun with it. On your own terms.

If you are new to social networking, check out our Facebook 101 post.