Larry Magid: Managing privacy on Facebook


There’s an old saying, “Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody seems to do anything about it.” The same could be said about Facebook privacy, but unlike the weather, there are things you can do to control how Facebook uses and shares your information.

I’m not saying you’ll have 100% privacy on Facebook or any other commercial site or app that makes its money from targeted advertising, nor am I taking them off the hook from privacy missteps that have gotten them into trouble with regulators. But there are tools you can use to limit what they collect and who can see it.

Privacy Checkup

The best place to start is with a privacy checkup at Here you’re able to see who can see what you share, how people can find you on Facebook, how to keep your account secure and configure data settings and ad preferences.

The “who” section lets you decide who can see your phone number, email address, birthday, year of birth, hometown and relationship status. Your choices are public (anyone on or off Facebook), friends on Facebook, friends except acquaintances, just yourself, acquaintances or “custom.” Custom gives you a great deal of control, allowing you to specify specific people or groups of people. There’s even a “don’t share with” option that lets you share with everyone except specific people. You can also control who can see your work and education history, or you can decide to not include that in your profile.

You can also decide on the default audience for your posts. Most people select “friends” as their default audience, but you can change that for all of your posts or for a specific post by clicking on the setting in a post as you’re creating it.  A couple of words of caution. If you change the audience for a post, that changes your default, so the next post you send will be that new audience setting. Be sure to review this when you post to make sure you’re only sending to the people you want to see your post.

Also be aware that controlling who can see your information doesn’t remove that information from Facebook’s servers. If you become a target in a criminal case or a lawsuit, there is the possibility that Meta (Facebook’s parent company) could be required to disclose that information if presented with a legally binding order.

You also have the option to block anyone so that they will no longer see things you post or be able to invite you to events or groups, start a conversation with you or add you as a friend. You can always review your block list and unblock anyone if you change your mind.

You’ve undoubtedly been on sites that have offered to let you “sign in with Facebook.” If you do that, the sites get access to some of your information. The “Your Data Settings” section of Privacy Checkup lets you remove any of those permissions.

Facebook also gives you the ability to control how advertisers can reach you. As part of its target ad strategy (which is more profitable for them than untargeted ads), Facebook can deliver ads based on such factors as relationship status, your employer, your job title and even where you went to school.  But you have the option to turn off any or all of these targeting factors.

Privacy settings and tools

Another page to check out is “Facebook’s Privacy Settings and Tools,” which you can get to by clicking on your profile picture and selecting “Settings and Privacy.”  There you’ll be able to review and make changes to many of your privacy settings including your profile information (which can say a lot about you), and your off-Facebook activity that other businesses and organizations have shared with Facebook. I was surprised by the large number of interactions that other companies I deal with, including my bank, have shared with Facebook. Also, check out the Profile and Tagging page, which lets you control who can see posts you’re tagged in among other things.

One very revealing tool you can access from Privacy Settings is the Activity Log, which lists and lets you remove nearly every interaction you’ve done on the service as well as where others have tagged you. It may take quite a while to review your entire log, but it’s worth a look.

There’s no way to eliminate advertising on Facebook, because that’s how it makes its money and is able to offer you a free account. But you do have some control over the types of ads you see. In the top left corner of the settings page (on the web), there is an “ad preferences.”

The ad preferences section lets you review advertisers you’ve seen and interacted with, and hide them if you wish. Ad topics allows you to “see less” of specific topics such as “grocery delivery,” “personal development,” “fitness and wellness,” and many others.

Privacy settings for teens

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