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Facebook privacy and security

General tips for safer Facebook experience - managing timeline, profile info and lists; limiting data visibility, removing phony friends and apps, etc

By . Last modified: 2013-07-22.

Facebook is a service that "millions of people use everyday to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet".

Logging in to Facebook in a secure manner (or using the HTTPS option in Account Settings)

Those who have not yet enabled the secure connection (HTTPS) option in their Account Settings, or have not done so for a reason, do not log in to Facebook via the standard, unencrypted page http://www.facebook.com! To keep your credentials at least a tad safer, always use the secure page instead: https://www.facebook.com. Your session will continue unencrypted (using the standard HTTP protocol, not HTTPS), but at least your user name and password do not travel unencrypted via the Internet.

If you want to continue your whole Facebook session encrypted, click on the Address Bar of your browser and add an "s" after "http" and then press Enter key on your keyboard. The page will reload encrypted and your whole Facebook session will be protected until you log out of Facebook or close your browser.

If you are logging in to Facebook via some web site (for example, after clicking a Like or Follow button), make sure you add the "s" after "http" there also! All Facebook standard login pages use the insecure HTTP protocol by default and login credentials are easy to steal this way.

Before clicking the Login button, always make sure you clear the Keep me logged in check box! Otherwise, your Facebook session will continue until you close your Internet browser (not just a tab, but the whole browser) - and your personal data might fall into hands of cyber-criminals, or malicious scripts might misuse your still active Facebook session for spreading ill-intended messages with links to malicious sites.
Facebook login page, always clear the 'Keep me logged in check box' before logging in to Facebook!

Please log out of Facebook after each visit by opening Account menu on the top right (the cogwheel icon) and clicking the Log Out command!
Always log off of Facebook instead of just closing your browser. Open the Account menu and click 'Log Out'.

Managing Lists on Facebook

Use Lists to limit people's access to any item (such as status updates, photos, videos, etc). Lists are also good for quick filtering of updates from certain groups of friends.
Facebook has added some built-in lists - Close Friends, Acquaintances, Family, Restricted - to make the categorization easier:

  • Close Friends - only your very best friends that you trust with your life.
  • Acquaintances - people you sometimes socialize with at school, work, Facebook, etc.
  • Family - family members.
  • Restricted - people you don't know too well and who wanted to become friends on Facebook for some strange reason. This list is for those you do not trust - these people should not see any of your private information. They have access only to these posts that you decide to make Public (visible to all Facebook users).

Additionally, you might have some more default lists based on where you live or work or the schools you attended.
By default, all people are in the Friends list.

You should not add the same person to more than one built-in list! If you want to share something with specific people only, create your own list instead.

To manage the lists, click Facebook logo on the top left. Then click the More link in the Friends section.
To manage lists on Facebook, click 'More' in the Friends section.

Please be aware of an ages-old Facebook glitch - if you've added all lists to favorites, there is no way to access the lists' management page. Just remove one of the lists from favorites then and you'll get the Friends section with More link.

Click the list you want to manage.
Facebook, Friends. To manage a list, click its name.

Now you'll see all updates from the members of the list. To manage list members, click the Manage List button on the right and click Edit List.
Facebook, Lists. To manage list members, click 'Manage List' and select 'Edit List'.

By default, only list member are displayed. Select Friends from the combo box on the top left and then click to add or remove a person. The check mark means the friend is on the list. You can also filter friends by name using the Search box on the top right.
Click Finish to update the list.
Facebook, managing list members. Click a person to change his/her membership status. Click Finish to activate changes.

Selecting update types for a List on Facebook

You can also choose which types of updates you want to receive from members of a list. Click Manage List and then click Choose Update Types.
Facebook, Lists. To manage the types of updates you want to receive from list members, click 'Manage List' and then click 'Choose Update Types'.

Now select or deselect any items on the list. I, for example, like to remove game updates from each and every list.
Facebook, Lists, Updates to show. Click to activate or deactivate the displaying of any type of updates for the list.

Adding and removing your own Lists on Facebook

You might want to create more specific Lists for sharing updates with, for example, class-mates, co-workers or mates at the same basketball club.

Click Facebook logo on the top left. Then click the More link in the Friends section.
To manage lists on Facebook, click 'More' in the Friends section.

Click Create List button on the top right.
Facebook, Lists. Click 'Create List' to add a new one.

Type in a name for the list. For example, "Teachers" or "Co-workers".
Add friends into the Members field by typing their names. Then click Create.
Facebook, Create New List. Type a name for the new list, add members, and click Create.

Now, using the Manage List button on the right, you can add or remove members, choose update types or rename the list. Scroll a bit upwards for instructions on these actions.

To delete the custom list, click Delete List on the Manage List menu.
Facebook, Manage List. To remove a custom list, click 'Delete List'.

As the picture below states, removing a List does not remove any rights on the posts that were shared with the List. If you need to change visibility of a post, you must do so manually.
Click Confirm to remove the List.
Facebook, Delete a List confirmation. Click 'Delete List' to remove it.

Editing your Facebook profile to control what information you share with others

After you fill your profile with personal information, it is mandatory to limit which lists of friends are able to see it. There is no point in sharing your detailed data with the world (Public) or with all friends on Facebook.

And remember - you do not have to fill all this data. If you want to be super-secret about something, blank fields are your best security policy against Graph Search and other privacy leaks! Facebook does require some information, but you can hide it from others.

To update your info and change access to your personal data, click your name on the top right. This will open your Timeline.
Then click the Update Info button on the bottom right of your cover photo.
Facebook Timeline. To change your info or access rights to personal data, click the 'Update Info' button.

First, click the Edit button (pencil icon) to the right of About section on the top right. Click Edit Sections.
Facebook Timeline, Update Info. To select which sections are displayed, click 'Edit Sections'.

Now tick or untick any sections you want to show or hide. You can also rearrange sections by dragging them. There is no point in revealing sections you never intend to fill with information, and this also means fewer access rights to manage. Remember, you do not have to fill a section if you do not want to!
Click Save.
Facebook Timeline, Edit Sections. Tick or untick a section you want to display or remove from your Timeline.

Let's move on to managing your information and access rights.

Never, ever select the Public option in any of the following sections!

You have these options for sharing the data on Facebook:

  • Public - shared with the whole world. Never use this option for personal data!
  • Friends - all Facebook friends, except those on the Restricted list.
  • Friends except Acquaintances - all Facebook friends, except those on the Acquaintances or Restricted list.
  • Only Me - self-explanatory.
  • Custom - select specific people and Lists to show to or hide from.
  • Close Friends - your very best friends you trust with your life.
  • Family - self-explanatory.
  • See all lists - built-in and custom Lists.

Facebook, sharing options. Never use the Public option!

You can always limit the access to your WorkCollege/University and High School information to Close Friends or even Only Me to keep unwanted people from finding you based on that data. Or you can be more open about it and reveal this information to Friends except Acquaintances.
Facebook Timeline, Update Info, Work and Education. Limit access to 'Friends except Acquaintances'.

Now find the Living section on the left and click Edit.
Make your Current City and Hometown visible to Friends except Acquaintances or Close Friends only.
Click Save to update the data.
Facebook Timeline, Update Info, Living. Limit access to 'Close Friends' or 'Friends except Acquaintances'.

Click Edit in the Family section.
Your Relationship Status should once again be visible to Only Me (to be on the very safe side) or Close Friends.
In most cases, the same applies to Family members, but Friends except Acquaintances is also acceptable here. You can also use the small ring icon to hide specific family members from your Timeline.
Facebook Timeline, Update Info, Family. Limit access to 'Only Me' or 'Close Friends'.

Then click Edit in the Basic Information section.
If you prefer to hide your gender (Male or Female) from your profile, clear the Show on my timeline check box.
To hide your birth date completely, select the Don't show my birthday on my timeline option in the Birthday section. Other options are Show my full birthday on my timeline (this one is not recommended for privacy reasons!) and Show only month & day on my timeline.
Data in the Interested In and Relationship Status section should be either hidden (Only Me) or visible to Close Friends only. If you want to shout it out loud, use the Friends except Acquaintances option, but don't make it visible to Public even if you're dating Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez! Laughing
LanguagesReligion and Political Views should also be limited to Friends except Acquaintances in most cases.
Click Save after making changes.
Facebook Timeline, Update Info, Basic Info. Limit all personal data to 'Only Me' or 'Close Friends'.

Next, click Edit in the About You section.
Never enter any Personally Identifiable Information (PII - your birthday, address, nick names, etc) in the About Me box to prevent any possibility of identity theft. Limit the visibility to Friends or Friends except Acquaintances here.
Click Save to accept the changes.
Facebook Timeline, Update Info, About You. Do not enter any personally identifiable information (birthday, address, nick names, etc) here. Limit the visibility to 'Friends except Acquaintances'.

Do exactly the same in Favorite Quotations section.
Facebook Timeline, Update Info, Favorite Quotations. Do not enter any personally identifiable information (birthday, address, nick names, etc) here. Limit the visibility to 'Friends except Acquaintances'.

Next, click Edit in the Contact Information section.
Your primary e-mail address can be visible to Friends except Acquaintances if this is no problem with you (but beware stalkers!). Limit access to other e-mail addresses to Only Me or Close Friends. Hide all addresses from Timeline using the ring icon (to the left of access rights).
Mobile Phones should be visible either to Only Me or Close Friends.
You can reveal your Work phone to more people only in case you're doing some business on Facebook; otherwise, limit it just like other phone numbers!
IM Screen Names (such as your Skype or AIM) should again be accessible by Only Me or Close Friends. If you do business over an instant messenger, you might want to choose some more open option.
Your Address, City/Town, Zip and Neighborhood must be hidden from most people - either hide it completely by selecting Only Me or allow access by Close Friends only.
Website is the only option that you might consider showing to Public (all people on Facebook) - in case that's your business. If it's your personal blog, you should limit the access to Friends except Acquaintances here.
Click Save after you're done editing access rights.
Facebook Timeline, Update Info, Contact Info. Limit access to your personal data by selecting 'Only Me', 'Close Friends' or 'Friends except Acquaintances'.

Next you have the Timeline sections you decided to reveal earlier. Click the pencil icon for a section to edit its contents, hide it from Timeline, see your activity log for the item, or edit privacy.
Facebook Timeline, Update Info, sections. Most sections have custom access rights.

The pictures below display privacy options for Music, Friends and Likes sections. In most cases, limit the visibility to Friends except Aquaintances. If you want to, you can hide your Friend List from all people. In case your Likes might reveal something sensitive about you, limit these to Close Friends or Only Me.
Facebook Timeline, Edit Privacy: Music. This is mostly harmless, so 'Friends' or 'Friends except Acquaintances' is acceptable here. Facebook Timeline, Edit Privacy: Friends. Limit Friend List to 'Close Friends' or 'Only Me'. Other settings can be 'Friends except Acquaintances'. Facebook Timeline, Edit Privacy: Likes. Limit items to 'Friends except Acquaintances'.

Finally, move back up to the topmost section on the left - Work and Education and click Done Editing.

Selecting access rights before and after posting to your Timeline (profile/wall)

You should always set good Privacy Settings first to prevent your posts being Public (visible to everyone on Facebook and searchable on Google, Bing, etc).

But sometimes you need to make a post (some text, photo, video, etc) either more private or less private than your default settings. This often applies to those who have some business on Facebook.
To change visibility of a post before posting, select some setting from the Lists combo box (left to the Post button).
Facebook Timeline, New Post. To set visibility of the post before posting, select an item from the list to the left of 'Post' button.

If you want to change access rights to a post later, open your Facebook Timeline by clicking your name on top right. Click the Lists combo box right to the posting date and select an item from there.
Facebook Timeline, an existing post. To set visibility of the post on Timeline, click the button to the right of posting date. Then select access rights from the list.

Changing Facebook password

To change the password for your Facebook account, open Account menu (the cogwheel icon) on the top right and click Account Settings.
Facebook, to change your password, open Account menu and click 'Account Settings'.

In General tab, click the Edit link in the Password row.
Facebook, Account Settings, General. To change your password, click 'Edit' in the Password row.

Type your present password in the Current field. Then specify and confirm a new password in the New and Re-type new fields.
Please create a strong and unique password! Never use your personal information for a password. Consider using some free password manager program for securely storing and auto-filling user names and passwords.
Click Save Changes to activate your new password.
Facebook, Account Settings, General, Password. To change your password, type the current password. Then type your new password twice, and click Save Changes.

Hiding posts and activities on Facebook Timeline

Your Facebook Timeline tells your whole life story and lists all your activities: your posts on other users' Walls, comments on their posts (photos, videos, links, Wall posts, etc), people you became friends with, your likes, answers to questions, events, profile changes, activity in games, etc. This is really a complete history about you on and off Facebook. Wow, such a fantastic place for finding out who you are and what you do! Laughing

If this is unacceptable for you, open your Timeline by clicking your name on the top right.

To hide any individual post from your Timeline, click the down arrowhead icon on its top right and select the Hide from Timeline option. To remove the post permanently, click Delete instead - this action will be confirmed for safety.
Facebook, Timeline. To remove any post from your Timeline (Profile, Wall), click the down arrowhead icon on the top right. Then click 'Hide from Timeline'.

You can also hide whole sections or post types (Likes, Music, Friends, etc) as described above. Happy surfing on your own Timeline! Wink

To see how your Facebook profile looks to Public or specific friends, click the cogwheel icon to the next of Activity Log button on your cover photo and select View As. This displays your public posts and information (how any non-friend sees your data). You can then choose specific friends to verify they do not see too much of your personal stuff.
Facebook, Timeline. To check how your profile looks to visitors or specific friends, click cogwheel icon on your cover photo and select 'View As'.

Removing unwanted people from friends on Facebook

Stay cautious about people who want to be added as your friends. There are really many fake accounts in every social network and cyber-crooks use them for stealing personal information. You wouldn't want your private photos to end up on a porn site, would you?
If you do not know the person who sends you a friend request, simply do not add him/her! After all - why should you do that?

You can remove a person from your Facebook friends by clicking your name on the top right and then clicking Friends under your cover photo.
To edit Facebook friends list, click 'Friends' below your cover photo.

Type a part of the unwanted person's name in the Search Your Friends box.
Facebook, Friends list. To search for a friend, type a part of his/her name in the 'Search Your Friends' field.

Click the Friends button to the right of his/her name and click Unfriend. Alert: this action will not be confirmed!
Facebook friends list, to delete a friend, click 'Friends' and select 'Unfriend'. There will be no confirmation for this!

Removing spammy or malicious applications at Facebook

Do not believe in all Facebook groups' and applications' promises. You will never earn millions by joining a group or allowing an application to access your personal information. You will just be another victim of identity theft.

If the unwanted app is visible on the left, stop your mouse pointer on its name and click the pen-shaped button. Select Remove App from the list.
Please note that apps displayed on the pictures are not malicious!
To remove an unwanted Facebook application that is visible on the Apps list, click the pen-shaped button and select 'Remove App' from the menu.

If the application is not visible, click More in the Apps section instead.
To see all Facebook application you are using, click 'More' in the Apps section.

Again, click the pencil-shaped icon to the left of app's name and click Remove App.
Facebook, Apps list. Click the pen icon to the left of an app and click 'Remove App' to delete it.

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