Facebook Privacy Settings: The Ultimate Guide

Facebook on screen with settings icons and a woman using a laptop
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Summary: Facebook Privacy Settings

Have you ever thought about the amount of personal information we share with Facebook? From your contact information to your buying habits, the tech giant has access to a lot of data on its users. But what does it do with all of that information — and how can you improve your privacy on the platform?

Here are the three key privacy setting areas you need to know and review.

  • Data privacy – what information about you is public and private on Facebook, as well as who has access to your account
  • Tracking – what activity on and off the platform Facebook tracks
  • Advertising data – what information Facebook collects and how they use that data including for marketing purposes

For step-by-step instructions on how to review and update Facebook privacy settings and keep your personal information private and secure, read on.

Laptop with a platform that looks like Facebook

Facebook is currently the largest social media platform on the market, with just under 2.9 million users monthly. However, Facebook’s marketing practices and privacy policies have been a source of controversy in the past. This could be why Facebook has made recent efforts to provide its users with more control over their privacy and personal information.

Whether you’re looking into how to make your Facebook private or how to keep a closer eye on the information Facebook has on you, we have you covered in this Facebook privacy settings guide.

What is Public and Private on Facebook?

While Facebook does allow you to hide a lot of your personal information with the Facebook privacy settings, there are a few things that are always public on Facebook. These are your:

Infographic showing information that are always public on Facebook

  • Name
  • Gender pronouns
  • Profile picture
  • Cover photo
  • Profile description
  • Country
  • City
  • School
  • Workplace
  • Username and user ID (which is part of your profile URL)
  • Language
  • Friends

Although the above aspects cannot be changed to private on your Facebook account, there are other things that you can control. We will go into these areas in greater detail later on in this article, but they include:

  • Whether posts are public or private
  • If your profile shows us in search engine results
  • Who can and cannot tag you
  • Specific people that can or cannot see your profile and/or posts

Reviewing Your Current Facebook Privacy

It’s important to review your current setup to see what is and is not secure. Once you have determined which areas are vulnerable, you can take corrective action to protect your personal information and keep your Facebook account safe.

Review for unrecognized Facebook logins

This first step might seem obvious, but it is easily overlooked. Have you ever forgotten to log out from a friend’s computer or smartphone, only to find out later when they make a silly post on your timeline? That specific scenario may be harmless and funny — but what if you’re logged into a public computer and forgot to log out?

Luckily, determining which devices have Facebook logged in involves only a few simple steps.

  1. While logged into Facebook, click on the triangle in the top right-hand corner of the screen and then click “Settings & privacy.
  2. Facebook Profile Settings And Privacy
  3. Click “Activity Log” from the “Settings & privacy” menu.
  4. Facebook Activity Log in menu
  5. Click on “Active sessions.”
  6. Facebook Active Sessions in menu
  7. Review recent logins to spot any devices or logins that weren’t made by you or that you no longer want to have access to your Facebook account.
  8. If you do find a fishy login, or if you left yourself logged into another device, click on the 3 dots beside the entry and click “Log Out.”
  9. Facebook Log Out

Review what’s public on your profile

To review what’s visible to anyone visiting your Facebook profile, visit your profile when logged out of Facebook. Anything visible is public to everyone, regardless of whether they have a Facebook account or not.

Meanwhile, to see what’s visible to Facebook members whom you’re not friends with, follow these steps.

  1. Log in to your Facebook account and navigate to your profile by clicking on your name at the top of the left-hand menu.
  2. From there, click on the three dots next to edit profile to open up a menu.
  3. View As on Facebook
  4. Click “View As.”

Now you’re viewing your profile like someone not connected to you as a friend. Anything visible here is public to anyone with a Facebook account.

The content on your profile is Public

Manage the Facebook Posts You’re Tagged In

One of the other Facebook privacy areas that you should review is what other people are tagging you in. This is because those posts can be seen by your friends and the friends of the people who tagged you.

Additionally, if the post is set to public, anyone on Facebook can see it. While this might not seem like a big deal, it could pose an issue if the post is offensive or goes against something your school, employer, or future employer’s policies. This is why it is important to manage your Facebook posts.

Below is how to manage the Facebook posts you’re tagged in.

  1. Log into your Facebook account and navigate to your profile by clicking on your name at the top of the left-hand menu.
  2. From there, click on “Manage Posts.”
  3. Facebook Manage Posts Button
  4. Review the posts and check the boxes for any posts that you have been tagged in that you would prefer not to show on your timeline. You can choose up to 50 at a time. Then click next.
  5. Facebook Untag Image Manage posts
  6. Choose whether to hide it from your timeline or remove the tag and click done.
  7. Facebook Manage Posts
  8. Repeat as necessary.

Improving Your Privacy by Updating Your Facebook Privacy Settings

Now that you know how your current privacy setup on Facebook stacks up, you can move on to improving it with a few simple changes to your Facebook privacy settings. These changes will not only allow you to reduce the amount of private information available on Facebook but will also give you the tools to control who you share that information with.

Make your profile harder to find

The first step in improving your Facebook privacy settings is by changing a few things in your general settings. While you can simply change your name on Facebook, that might not work for everyone, especially if you still want to connect with friends and family on the platform. Besides, using a fake name seems shady — and that can cause its own issues if potential or current employers or romantic partners discover the “fake Facebook account.”

Instead, follow the steps below to make it harder to locate your Facebook account.

  1. Click on the triangle in the top right-hand corner when logged into Facebook.
  2. Click “Settings & privacy.”
  3. Click “Settings.”
  4. Under “General”, you now have the option to edit your name, username, and contact email.
  5. Click on “Edit” next to the area you want to update.

You can make a few changes here to make it harder for people to find you on Facebook. These includes:

  • Update your name to just your first name and the initial of your last name
  • Change your username to something relevant to you, but not your name, e.g. LovesCooking4
  • Update your contact email to one that does not give away your identity

Update your Facebook profile picture and cover photo

You may not think that a profile picture in front of your workplace or leaning against the back of your car is a big deal, but these types of profile pictures can give away some important private information.

Your workplace might give away your location and, in the US, your car can give away your license plate number — both information that can be used to get a whole host of personal information. If your profile picture is too telling, change it out for a simple, professional-looking headshot.

To change your Facebook profile photo, follow the simple steps below.

  1. Navigate to your Facebook profile by clicking on your face on the top right-hand menu.
  2. Next, click on the camera icon on your current profile picture.
  3. From here you can upload a new photo or choose one of the photo’s already uploaded to Facebook.

Facebook Update Profile Picture

Another area of your profile to optimize privacy for is your cover photo. Your cover photo can be seen by anyone visiting your Facebook page — and can even be downloaded. If you have a photo of your kids, home, or something else you might not want anyone to have access to, change it out for a photo of ocean waves, beautiful flowers, or anything else that isn’t too telling about yourself or your family.

Changing your profile cover photo is extremely easy. Simply follow the steps below.

  1. While logged into Facebook, click on your face on the top right-hand menu to go to your Facebook profile.
  2. From there, click on the “Edit Cover Photo” button on your current cover picture.
  3. Now you can upload a new photo or select a photo already uploaded to Facebook. You can also just remove your cover photo.

Facebook Edit Cover Photo

Sharing your Facebook profile to search engines

If you’ve ever searched for your name online, then you probably know that your Facebook profile shows up in search results. However, what many people don’t know is that you can stop your profile from showing up in a Google search.

Follow the steps below to stop Facebook from sharing your profile with search engines.

  1. In the Privacy Menu of your settings, look in the section labeled “How People Find and Contact You.”
  2. Click “Edit” on the question “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?”
  3. Here you can choose to uncheck that option. As a result, your Facebook page won’t turn up on the search engine results pages anymore.

Facebook Privacy Settings And Tools

Managing third-party access

Often when you subscribe to a website or log in to a new app, they offer you the convenience of logging in using your Facebook account. While this might seem like a convenient way to set up a new account, it’s actually not secure.

Over time, this can mean that a lot of different companies have access to your personal Facebook information and — even your Facebook account itself. Moreover, most people never think to go back and revoke permissions when they stop using an app or website.

Luckily, managing third-party access to your Facebook account is easy. You can actually manage those permissions directly from Facebook. Follow the steps below to quickly review and remove third-party access to your Facebook account.

  1. Click on the triangle in the top right-hand corner of the Facebook screen when logged in.
  2. Click on “Settings and privacy.”
  3. Click “Settings.”
  4. Under the Settings menu, choose “Apps and Websites.”
  5. Facebook Settings Apps And Websites
  6. You will see a list of Active Apps and Websites. Click “View and Edit” if you just want to check the permissions for each app. Or click “Remove” to remove the app’s access to your Facebook account.
  7. Facebook Removing 3rd Party Apps
  8. If you choose to remove the app’s access, a dialogue box will follow. This will give you the option to also delete any posts the app made on Facebook on your behalf.

If you prefer not to allow any apps or websites to integrate with your Facebook profile, you can turn off all permissions by finding the “Apps, Websites, and Games” option at the bottom of this page. Simply click “Turn Off” to turn off this feature on Facebook.

Facebook Turn off Apps

Change the default settings for future posts

  1. Navigate to the “Settings and privacy” menu by clicking on the triangle in the top right-hand corner of the Facebook screen. Choose “Settings and privacy” from the drop-down menu.
  2. Next, click “Settings.”
  3. Then, choose “Privacy” under the Settings menu.
  4. Facebook Settings Privacy Button
  5. Click Edit under “Your Activity.”
  6. Facebooks Your Activity Edit
  7. Click the dropdown menu next to Post” and choose either “Only Me,” “Friends,” or “Specific Friends” to make sure your posts are not defaulting as public.
  8. Facebook Your Activity Who Can See

Easily restrict past posts

To further your security on Facebook, you can limit your past posts from being viewed publicly.

If you’ve been using Facebook for a few years, it’s possible that when you first started using Facebook, you weren’t as security conscious as you are today. Over the years, you may have hundreds of posts that were posted publicly. Now, you might prefer these to be restricted to just your friends, or possibly even made entirely private.

To make your past posts more private, follow these steps.

  1. From the “Settings and privacy” menu, go to the Settings menu.
  2. From here, select “Privacy.”
  3. Under “Your Activity”, select “Limit Past Posts.”
  4. Facebook Tools Limit Last Posts
  5. Click “Limit Past Posts.”
  6. Facebook Limit The Audience for Old posts
  7. Click “Limit Past Posts” again. This will change the privacy setting for all of your past posts to “Friends Only.”
  8. Facebook Limit All Past Posts

Take control of Facebook tagging

Facebook allows you to take control of who can tag you in a post or photo — and under what circumstances. You can also control who can see the posts you’re tagged in.

Facebook notifies you when someone tags you in a post. This way, you can give your approval before the post appears on your timeline.

To update your Facebook privacy settings in regards to tagging and posting on your profile, follow these easy steps.

  1. From the Settings menu, select “Timeline and Tagging.”
  2. From this menu, you can update your Facebook privacy settings for the items below by clicking “Edit” next to the applicable section. These sections are:
  3. Facebook Profile and Tagging

Lockdown your friends’ list and friends requests

One of the most commonly used tools for scammers on Facebook is your friends list. By seeing who you’re friends with, scammers can create a fake account under one of your friends’ names and send you a new friend request from that account.

Sometimes, people fall for this simple scam because who hasn’t forgotten a password and gotten locked out of an account at some point, right? If you fall for the scammer’s friend request, this opens you up to receive messages from them or see posts that might have links to malicious websites.

One of the easiest things you can do to stop this from happening is by making it harder for scammers to see your friends lists and send you friend requests. Follow these steps to stop scammers from sending you Facebook friend requests.

  1. From the “Settings and privacy” menu, choose “Settings.”
  2. Now, select “Privacy.”
  3. Under “How People Find and Contact You”, click edit next to “How People Find and Contact You.”
  4. Click the dropdown and change it from “Everyone” to “Friends of Friends.”
  5. Facebook Friend Requests Setting
  6. Now click “Edit” next to “Who can see your friends list?”
  7. Change this to “Only Me”, “Friends”, or “Specific Friends.”
  8. Facebook How People Find and Contact You

Limit who can message you on Facebook

Another area to update your privacy settings on Facebook is messaging. This too can be found in the Privacy menu of Facebook.

  1. From the Privacy settings, navigate to the “How You Get Message Requests” section.
  2. Click “Edit” next to the areas that you want to change. For example, click “Edit” next to “Others on Facebook.”
  3. Facebook Message Requests Edit

Reduce Facebook’s Data Collection and Targeting

Facebook Privacy Laptop LockFacebook is free to use because they sell advertisements to their commercial partners. From the pages you like to the keywords you search, Facebook knows a lot about you.

All this data allows Facebook to help its partners target people using consumer information and activity. If you want to reduce the number of advertisements targeting you, you can make a few quick changes to your Facebook privacy settings.

Turn off Facebook’s access to off-Facebook activity

Many users do not realize that Facebook not only has access to their activities both while on the platform and off the platform. Facebook is able to track your moves online by leveraging its partnerships with countless businesses. From the e-commerce stores you frequent to the blogs you read, Facebook probably has a tracking code attached to the website. Fortunately, you can opt out of this tracking with a few steps.

  1. From the Settings menu, choose “Your Facebook Information.”
  2. Under “Off-Facebook Activity,” click View.
  3. Facebook Off-Facebook Activity
  4. Under “What You Can Do”, click “More options.”
  5. Facebook What You Can Do Screen
  6. Choose “Manage Off-Facebook Activity” to select specific third-party websites and apps to clear information from. Or just click “Clear History” to clear all information shared with Facebook.
  7. Now choose “Manage Future Activity” to determine if you want information shared with Facebook going forward.
  8. Click “Manage Future Activity” again.
  9. Facebook Manage Future Activity
  10. To turn off Facebook’s access to “Future Off-Facebook Activity,” click the slide at the right.
  11. Future Off-Facebook Activity Slider

Control the Facebook ads that you see

As mentioned earlier, Facebook uses what you like, follow, and search to help its partners advertise to you. However, you can control the types of ads you see and even block specific advertisers from your feed. These Facebook privacy settings are found in the Settings menu under “Ads.”

Facebook Ad Preferences

  • To hide specific advertisers: Click on “Advertisers.” These are advertisers with whom you shared information or whose ads you have clicked on. Simply click “Hide” to stop seeing their ads.
  • To reduce the ads you see for a specific topic: Click on “Ad Topics.” These are topics that you have shown interest in, so Facebook is targeting you with advertisements in these areas. To reduce the number of ads you see for a specific topic, click “Fewer” next to the topic.

The last section, “Ad Settings,” has a lot of eye-opening data that Facebook has curated on you, including things that you have clicked on and interacted with through Facebook.

lock on smartphoneThis is how Facebook builds a profile of who you are to sell targeted advertisements to you. You can look through your interests and delete them if you don’t feel they should apply to you.

Click on the “Categories used to reach you” to see the sort of information Facebook has on you. In this section, Facebook will show what it believes your political views are, the types of devices you use, whether you are a parent and how old your children are, and much more.

This is the information Facebook has taken from your activity on Facebook over time. With this information, advertisers can find people that are interested in their product or service.

How Does Facebook Use Your Data?

Laptop with Sync IconFacebook has been in the news a lot lately — and not in a positive light. From logging personal contact information to tracking user activity on and off the platform, the company has a large amount of personal data on its users.

But what does Facebook use all that data for? How Facebook handles its users’ data is dependent on the company’s privacy policy, which we’ll go into next.

Facebook privacy policy

Facebook’s privacy policy isn’t the most transparent. For example, you cannot review previous versions of the policy, only the most current one. But that isn’t the only red flag when it comes to Facebook’s privacy policy. Below are just a few things we noticed:

  • The service’s general security practices are not outlined
  • Users are not necessarily notified in case of a data breach
  • Third parties are granted access to users’ personal data
  • Law enforcement is typically granted access to Facebook’s user data

Learn more about privacy policies here, such as where to find summaries of your apps’ user agreements and what laws these software companies are beholden to.

What data does Facebook collect?

We know that Facebook collects things like basic identity and contact information from its users. However, there’s other information that Facebook collects unless you change your Facebook privacy settings.

Let’s take a closer look at what data Facebook collects on users:

  • Data you provide — your name, age, location, hometown, religious views, political views
  • On and off-Facebook activity — posts you make, websites and physical places you visit, what you search for online, and what you purchase
  • Friends and contacts — how you interact with your friends or contacts
  • Your friend’s online activity — both on and off the platform activity, regardless of whether you have an active Facebook account or not
  • Usage of affiliated companies — WhatsApp, Instagram, etc.
  • Transactions — purchases of Facebook-affiliated or -owned products and services or that use Facebook’s payment transaction services
  • Facebook usage information — date and time you logged in, browsers used, and your location
  • Device attributes and operations — your operating system, versions of your hardware and software, how much storage space your device has, apps installed, file names and types, mouse movements, and device signals (e.g. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi access points, GPS location)
  • Non-user information — non-Facebook-users’ data when that person is listed in a contact list for an email, phone, or another account that is connected to Facebook
  • Information from third-party partners — interactions, purchases, and data you provide a third-party

How does Facebook use your data?

Now that we’ve looked at the types of information Facebook collects, you’re probably wondering how the company uses that data. Everything boils down to improving Facebook’s sales.

In general, this is how Facebook uses your personal data:

  • Personally-targeted and behavioral marketing from Facebook
  • Sharing with third-party “partners” to improve the third-party’s advertising
  • Personalizing your feed to keep you scrolling and on the platform longer
  • To perform product research and testing
  • Complying with law enforcement or legal requests

Why Should You Make Your Information on Facebook Private?

List With Magnifying Glass and Shield SmallOne of the biggest concerns for most users of any social media platform is how their personal information is used by both the platform itself and by those that can access it.

Facebook is one of the bigger offenders of using user information for their own gain, including the information from platforms they have controlling interest in, such as WhatsApp and Instagram. This is is a major privacy concern with Facebook — but it’s far from the only one.

Now that we’ve discussed Facebook’s privacy settings and how to improve your privacy on Facebook, let’s go over the other reasons why it’s important to make your Facebook information private.

  • To keep your personal information just that, personal. From where you live or go to school to when you were born, this information can be used to obtain access to your accounts. Fortunately, you can protect this information with just a few key changes to your Facebook privacy settings.
  • To keep you and your family safe from those that could do you harm. This goes along with the first, but if you improve your privacy on Facebook, you can limit who can find you on Facebook.
  • To stop scammers from contacting you. If you’ve been on Facebook for any amount of time, you’ve probably received a random friend request or message request. While not all of these are scammers, the large majority are trying to scam you or at least trying to sell you something you don’t want. Changing your privacy settings on Facebook can be a great scammer deterrent.
  • To protect your professional reputation. Whether you posted New Year’s Eve party pictures or someone tagged you in a controversial post, current and potential employers or clients might be able to see them. However, if you improve your privacy settings on Facebook, you can have better control over who has access to what.

While some of these are more significant than others, all of these reasons for keeping your Facebook privacy settings updated are necessary for improving your online security and privacy.

Whether you’re concerned about potential employers passing you over because of your political stance or you just don’t want to see irrelevant ads because Facebook sold your information, your privacy is important.

Taking Control of Your Information

Most of us share a large amount of our lives online, especially on social media. From our vacation photos to our network of friends, Facebook has access to a lot of our personal information. Luckily, as we’ve shown you, you can have better control over your information with just a few changes.

Now it’s time to head over to your Facebook account and take your personal privacy into your own hands.

Since Facebook is not the only app that collects your personal data, you should also review your privacy settings on other apps and websites. Take a few minutes to go through our privacy setting articles on:

Facebook Privacy Settings: Frequently Asked Questions

If after reading our guide to Facebook’s privacy settings, you still have questions, don’t worry — we have you covered. Here are a few of our most frequently asked questions on Facebook privacy settings.

There are a lot of Facebook privacy settings that you should be using to secure your personal information. Here are a few:

  1. Set your posts to Friends only.
  2. Only allow friends to tag you in posts and require your approval before they appear on your timeline.
  3. Limit who can contact you on Facebook.
  4. Set your Friends lists to be only visible to yourself and maybe your current friends.
  5. Limit who can see the posts you’re tagged in.
  6. Clear your “Off-Facebook” activity history.
  7. Stop allowing Facebook to track your “Off-Facebook” activity.
  8. Remove access from 3rd party apps and websites.
  9. Hide your profile from search engines.

For more privacy settings and step-by-step instructions to improve your privacy on Facebook, read our full article here.

Your profile will never be 100% private, but you can make it mostly private with a few changes to your Facebook privacy settings and your profile. These include:

  1. Changing your profile and cover pictures to generic photos.
  2. Change your name and username to something harder to tie back to you specifically, i.e. your first name and the first initial of your last name for example.
  3. Change all of your posts to Friends only or only me.
  4. Hide your personal information from your profile, i.e. birthday, location, employer, etc.
  5. Hide your profile from search engines.
  6. Only allow friends of friends to message you or send you a friend request.
  7. Hide your friends list.
  8. Set your privacy setting for the pages you like and follow to be visible to only you.

If you need more privacy settings or instructions on making your Facebook profile more private, read our full article here.

There are two ways to do this. First, you can go to your Privacy settings under your “Settings and Privacy” menu in Facebook and set your post visibility default to “Friends” or “Specific Friends.”

Second, you can choose the audience for specific posts themselves by clicking on the three dots in the top right-hand corner and choosing “Edit Audience”. Then you can choose “Friends,” “Specific Friends,” or “Me Only.”

Security research coordinator
Kat is an IT security business consultant with experience in project management, process development, and leadership. She coordinates our team's research efforts in the field of cybersecurity, privacy, and censorship.
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Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.