Facebook Privacy Basics

What You Need to Know About Facebook Privacy

Social media keyboard

Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Facebook privacy (or the lack of it) has been a part of the news more often than Facebook founders might like. But when you share information online – anywhere, not just on Facebook – some common sense coupled with appropriate privacy settings will help assure your privacy remains intact.

It can be tempting to share all of your deepest, darkest secrets on Facebook. And while you might have shared these conversations with your true friends, if you don’t know how to properly adjust your Facebook privacy settings or don’t bother to find out, you might be sharing lots of information with people across the world you’d rather not share it with.

Facebook Privacy Fundamentals

There are two basic Facebook concepts you need to understand in order to achieve the level of privacy you want on Facebook.

  1. Type of information
  2. Who it’s shared with

Information Types

When it comes to information you post on Facebook, it is categorized into the following groups:

  • Your Status, Photos, and Posts
    These are items you post to Facebook that may talk about what you’re doing, the photos of you or events you upload to Facebook and any items you post on your Facebook wall.
  • Bio and Favorite Quotations
    Information you provide as part of your profile that includes the bio you wrote about yourself and any favorite quotations you add.
  • Family and Relationships
    Any information you’ve included in your Facebook profile in the Relationships section. This will include whether you’re married or in a relationship, etc., may include your partner’s name and photo and may include any family members and their photos that you’ve included within your profile.
  • Photos and Videos I'm Tagged in
    These can include photos and videos for which you’ve tagged yourself or that others have tagged with your name – even photos and videos you weren’t previously aware of and those where you’re not even in the picture.
  • Religious and Political Views
    Whatever information you’ve put into your profile in the Basic Information area about your religious and political views.
  • Birthday
    Again, this information is what you specified as your birth date when you signed up for Facebook and is included in the Basic Information area of your Facebook profile. Facebook requires you to provide a date of birth when you sign up – but it doesn’t have to be your actual date of birth. Your actual date of birth, in the wrong hands, can lead to undesirable circumstances, like identity theft.
  • Can Comment on Posts
    While this isn’t an actual type of information on Facebook, it gives you control over who is allowed to comment on your Facebook Status/Wall posts. Those who are not allowed to comment won’t see a Comment link below your post.
  • Places I Check In To
    If you use the Here Now feature on Facebook, you basically tell people where you are at a given moment in time – like at the racetrack, at the bar, etc. If you customize your Facebook privacy settings for this feature to Include someone in "People Here Now" after you check in, your location will not only be shared with friends or whomever you specified, it will be shared with other people on Facebook who are near that location. If you’ve ever been the victim of a stalker, you can appreciate how dangerous this feature could be.
  • Contact information
    This includes any and all information in the Contact Information section of your Facebook profile, much of which may have been required when you signed up for Facebook and you haven’t thought much about since. This includes your email addresses, your physical address and any phone numbers you provided.


There are only three levels of privacy on Facebook:

  1. Everyone
  2. Friends of Friends
  3. Friends Only

While these are the basic Facebook Privacy groups, you can create custom Friend Lists that you specify may see certain types of information and in many areas, you can specify Only me, such as for your birthday, cell phone number, etc. These types of refinements are discussed in detail in Adjusting Facebook Privacy Settings.

  • Everyone
    Means your information is visible to anyone without limits, and could end up on other sites, shared with people around the world, and not necessarily limited to those on Facebook.
  • Friends Only
    Fairly self-explanatory. The information is available to anyone whose invitation you accepted to become Friends on Facebook and anyone who has accepted your invitation to become Friends on Facebook. These people probably include your actual friends, family members and people you know quite well. But in Facebook, “Friends” can also include people you don’t know that well and, in many cases, people you don’t know at all.
  • Friends of Friends – This setting includes every one of your Facebook Friends as well as every one of their Facebook Friends. Think for a minute. How many Friends do you have on Facebook? How many Friends does each of those Friends have? You’re dealing with exponential numbers of people, the vast majority of whom you’ve probably never heard of, and in many cases, people you wouldn’t be friends with either on Facebook or in real life if you knew more about them. Even if you’re careful about whom you invite to be your Facebook Friend, and whose Friend invitations you accept, your friends may not be so careful.

Achieving Privacy Without Touching Your Settings

You can control your privacy without changing your Privacy settings in Facebook. You could:

  • Reveal only information you're comfortable sharing with others.
  • .
  • Use a different name and/or birth date than your actual.
  • Use a different email address for your Facebook account that is not one of your primary email addresses.
  • Not invite people or accept Friend invitations from people whom you don’t know.

Beyond that, you'll want to adjust your Facebook Privacy settings.