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Social media isn’t going away anytime soon—there are an estimated 2.34 billion users worldwide in 2019, with that forecast to be more than 2.95 billion by 2020 rolls around. What’s more, Facebook is the most popular social media channel, with over 2.2 billion accounts in the fourth quarter of 2018. 

With numerous privacy scandals under the belt—with the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica incident being one of the more infamous examples—it’s no wonder users are being more careful about the information they post online. 

The importance of Facebook privacy

Understanding, reviewing and adjusting your Facebook privacy settings isn’t just about stopping others from seeing your photos. Many people, from potential employers to online trolls, and even scammers are looking at your Facebook account. 

A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey found that 84% of employers now use social media to recruit candidates—meaning your profile can help you land, or not land that job. 

What’s more, there is potential for harassment, spamming or catfishing. In 2017, Facebook admitted that there were over 270 million fake or duplicate accounts. It’s impossible to know the motivation behind every fake account, but it’s fair to say many of them want users to disclose personal information for various ill intentions. 

Sarah Allison, founder and social media consultant with Mother of Marketing, agrees. “There are an incredible number of predators out there looking for your personal information so they can steal your identity,” she said. “What’s more your private moments with your family, and especially your children, should be protected.”

Although Facebook’s privacy policy and settings are far from perfect, it’s still the only way to manage how the company uses your data. However you can limit what information gets shared with Facebook, up to and including limiting who sees your posts.

How do Facebook’s privacy settings work?

Facebook’s privacy settings work in a few ways across the site. This includes who can see your personal information and who can contact you.  

“The good news is that you can control a lot,” Allison says. “Aside from limiting information in your personal profile, you can control if your information can be released to advertisers.”

The three main areas are your posts, your profile and your activity within third party apps. Here’s a quick breakdown of the three major areas where you can control your Facebook privacy settings:

  • Profile: You can limit the types of personal information others can access, including your birthday, your place of work and even your friend list. 
  • Posts: Everything you post to Facebook—a photo, video or status update—can be modified in terms of who can and cannot see it. You can also limit who can share your posts, photos and videos.
  • Third-Party Apps: When you link your Facebook profile to a third-party app, you can control who sees your activity. You can choose to unlink the app from your Facebook profile any time you wish.

In 2019, Facebook began making a few major changes they claim will help further protect your privacy. Some of these include new features to help users more easily share items with members in private groups and future plans to encrypt messaging services. 

Taylor Kincaid, social media director at Online Optimism, said that one of the biggest Facebook privacy changes made this year was removing the feature “partner categories” from its advertising options.

“This feature previously allowed third-party advertisers to track your online activities so Facebook could profile users into extremely specific behaviors,” she said. “It was so specific that some users felt like they were being ‘watched’ on Facebook.”

As Facebook’s privacy policy continues to evolve, you can be more vigilant in tweaking your privacy settings to help ensure your private information doesn’t get into the wrong hands. 

How to change privacy settings on Facebook

Facebook has a “Run Privacy Checkup” function that allows you to see your privacy settings quickly for posts, your profile and third party app connections. It’ll give you a quick insight into how your personal information is being shared and gives you the opportunity to change default settings regarding who can see your posts, personal details in your profile and apps that have access to your personal information.

According to Facebook, their privacy checkup feature isn’t currently available to everyone. The company cites users on “certain devices” as an example, without further elaboration. However, you can still adjust your settings by heading the “privacy settings” section in your account.

When adjusting your settings, there are three main ways you can limit or share your posts and personal information:

  • Public: Anyone can access your posts or personal information on your profile whether you’re friends with them or not. This means your post can be shared by anyone, can be found by anyone within a search and accessed by third-party apps.
  • Friends (+ friends of anyone tagged): Only friends can see your posts and certain profile information. 
  • Only You: If you select this option, you’re the only one that can see your personal information or the post you created. Third-party apps will not have access to this information.
  • Custom – This is where you can customize who can see certain personal details or posts you create. It can include custom lists, friends of friends or certain Facebook groups.

However, some information you share on Facebook will be public. For example, your profile photo and name is public, meaning anyone can see it. This also includes any posts you create in Facebook groups and information people write about you on their Facebook profiles.

For more ways to modify your privacy settings, here’s what you can do:

  • Privacy settings for apps and games: Click on “Apps and Websites” in the settings section and click on the app you want to update. You can choose what information you want to share, notifications you want to receive and who is able to see that you use the app. You can also disable app integration with Facebook completely by clicking “Edit and Disable Platform.” However, any previously shared data may still be accessible to third-party apps and websites. 
  • Limit who can see your posts: Click on “Who can see my stuff?” and select the option you want. Facebook will make this the default moving forward. You can also change privacy settings in old posts by clicking on “Limit Past Posts.” You can also block certain people from seeing posts by clicking on the custom in “Who should see this?” section and tagging people you want to hide the post from.
  • Access to your personal information: If you have access to privacy checkup, you can change most of those settings there. If not, got to the “About” section in your profile and select “Edit” under each section to change your privacy settings.
  • Limiting friend requests: If you head to the “Who can send you friend requests” section in privacy settings, you can limit who can send you a request, such as “Friends of Friends.”
  • Block users: You can block users from seeing your Facebook profile by clicking “Blocking” and start typing the name of the user you want to block. You can also block friends from sending you messages. 
  • Block location tracking: You can choose not to disclose where you are (i.e.,  not using the location pin) when creating a post. If you’re on a mobile device, you can prevent Facebook from using GPS and Wi-Fi to name your location. 
  • Review timeline posts: For old posts, simply remove tags from them (though any images of you posted by others will still be online). If you don’t want tagged posts appearing on your timeline, you can opt to review every tagged post before you approve it.

If you want to find out how your profile looks when viewed by others, you can do so by clicking on your name on the top left section in your News Feed, then clicking “View As” near the bottom of your cover photo. Remember that the information you’ve decided to hide on your timeline may still be visible by others in search or their News Feed. 

What about when people tag me?

Unfortunately, you can’t prevent people from tagging you in posts and videos, but you can limit these posts on your timeline by going to the “Timeline and Tagging” section in your settings. In other words, you can control the information you share with others and what can be seen on your timeline in your profile page, but not when someone else is sharing photos, videos and other information about you.

If you tag other people, more than just your friends can see it. If your friend approves the post, then all their friends can see it, opening up your post to be viewed, shared and even commented on the post.

Conclusion

Controlling your Facebook privacy settings is important because you don’t want your personal information floating around online for anyone to see. You never know what someone could do with it—or whether you’re opening yourself up for harassment or even identity theft. 
The good news is that if you’re unsure what information of yours can be found online, there are services like PeopleLooker that can help you identify any forgotten accounts that you need to review. However, there’s no such thing as having total privacy online — after all, there are some accounts that state certain information of yours will be public. Remember, whatever content you post online, you are ultimately responsible for it, so think carefully before doing so.