Privacy is dead. Or so Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook would have us believe. And those two gents with brains the size of a planet would have you believe. And just to prove it, every few months, those folks at Facebook change the way the dam’ thing works, circumventing all those settings you tweaked to control what information about you is displayed, exposing everything about you including the contents of your laundry basket.
It is still within your capability to choose what information about you is publicly displayed. You just have to know how to set it. Again. Sadly, although the controls are there, they are split up in different areas and apply different granularity (individual or groups of items).
The first problem is knowing what is publicly visible to begin with. Don’t assume just because you think your profile is locked down that no one can see any of it. You need to look at it as the general public do.
Go to your Facebook Timeline, that’s the page that is shown when you click your name on Facebook. When you are logged in, of course you see everything, you’re there as you. To see your profile as the public see it, go to the top right of your profile summary, find the Settings icon next to the Activity Log button, select Settings and select View As…
This changes the view to that of Joe Public looking in. You can also see it as specific people – to check what views your friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues have. Enter a person’s name in the names in the field, it will change the view according to their permission level.
The other revealing thing you want to check is your About page. While in Timeline, View As… the public, click the About option the bottom left of the header to discover that Facebook is showing of your profile – contact information, employment, education, location; friends list, photos, notes and message history are potential leaks of information – as revealed by the About button in the top left.
Cloak of Invisibility
Having taken stock, start with your About page. From this page, under your normal logged-in view, select the Edit button in the top right of an item you want to change; Facebook provides some default options to control who sees this information, allowing a finer grain from Public to Friends, Acquaintances to Only Me. You can define a custom list for ultimate control. The exception is history, which only aggregates individual items top-down, whereas you build your profile visibility from the bottom up.
Remember to select Save each time you change a setting. Facebook is a web-app and quite capable of not saving some, all or none of your changes, so explicitly save them yourself to ensure they take effect.
For items such as photos, you can control the privacy setting for each picture individually. This may spare you casual embarrassment, but remember you are trusting people with permission to view a digital asset on the web which can be saved and copied and redistributed. If in doubt, take it down.
This is especially useful to know since you cannot control the privacy level for the Profile Pictures album as a whole. To change photo visibility, open the photo view and select the Edit button on the right to change any of the properties – description, location, date and who can see it. The grammatically dubious Done Editing button saves your changes.
Custom photo albums are more easily controlled, each album has a menu icon next to the number of photos in the album; this lets you edit the album properties including visibility for the album as a whole.
There is one more level of Privacy Settings – find it in the top right of your profile, that little arrow opens into Privacy Settings, a separate page which allows you to customise privacy settings including who can find and contact you on Facebook (How You Connect), who can see posts you have been tagged in, social ads (Facebook Ads), photos you were tagged in and various other items.
As ever, Facebook takes some exploring to discover what and how the settings alter what the rest of the world can see. And there’s no guarantee that Zuck and co. won’t go change it all again next month. Until then, look sharp, stay vigilant and stay in control. AJS