Friday, 26 September 2014

Facebook Privacy Settings and How to Use them

After reading a post about how someone's face was morphed into a (semi) nude photo only because the photo was easily available on Facebook, I let them know that WE can control most of what we share on Facebook by just understanding and changing the default privacy settings of our Facebook account. This will help prevent access to and misuse of your information to a large extent. Of course, this is not completely foolproof, but you do avoid the risk of some pervert stranger landing on your profile and being able to check your pictures and other information about you.

So let's get started.


Before we create safeguards against strangers, first, let us filter the people who are already on our friend list, who already have access to our profile and the things we share. This process will allow us to segregate those we are most comfortable sharing everything with, those with whom we want to share only the general stuff, and everything and everyone in between. For this we create Lists that classify people into various categories.

This can be achieved by adding people to existing lists or creating lists. Based on information we share with Facebook, it automatically categorises people into categories, some of which are:
  • Close Friends - people who most interact with our posts and vice-versa.
  • Family - based on our relationships. For e.g., if you list someone as your sister or cousin or mother, they are added to Family.
  • Location based Lists  - Based on where you live, where you have lived in the past, etc.
  • School(s) - Based on education information provided by you.
  • Work - Based on work related information provided by you.
  • Acquaintances - People with whom you do not interact frequently.
  • Restricted - This category does not have any people by default. But anyone added to this list can access only information you choose to share publicly and nothing else. So anyone you are not sure about MUST go on this list.
Even though Facebook creates these lists and adds people to it for you, you can always change the people on the list and add a particular person to more than one list.

Let's see where you can find these lists and how to use them.

Managing Friend Lists

When you're on your home page, you'll see this on the left of the page. The order in which information appears on your page might be different. So you may have to scroll to see where your 'FRIENDS' appears. You can already see some lists there like Close Friends, Family, etc. Once you find this, click on 'More' - it's on the top right inside the red box. Clicking on more will show you all your lists.

You can see the various lists created - some by Facebook and some that I have created to suit my requirements. To add or remove someone to or from a specific pre-created list, click on the name of the list. Let me try this with my 'Family' List. 

Once you click on the list, it will show you a News Feed like screen with updates from all the people on that list. Click on 'Manage' as shown in the image below and then click on Edit List.

Also, do you see the little thunderbolt like icon next to Family? This means that it's an auto list, created by Facebook.

'On the list' - refer image below - shows people who are already on the list and shows thumbnails of their profile pictures. If you move your cursor over a picture, a small cross will appear on the top right of that picture. Clicking on it will REMOVE the person from that list (you will still be Facebook friends, they will just not be a part of this list.)

Clicking on 'Friends' will show all your friends, whether on this list or not. Those who are on the list will have a blue tick mark on the bottom right. You can use this screen to add people to the list. Also, the search bar on the top right can be used to search for people by name to add/remove them to the list by clicking on the thumbnail. Click finish once you're done.

You can also directly go to a friend's profile and add them to a list from there.Move your cursor/pointer over 'Friends' and select 'Add to another list' from the drop down.

You will see all your lists. You can select multiple lists to add a friend to. Again, the thunderbolt on the right indicates lists created by Facebook.

Creating your own Friend Lists

You can also create lists of your own by clicking on the Create List button on the top right of the Friends (More) page. When a new window pops-up, add a name for the list - Writer Buddies, Dance Class Friends, Book Club, Gym, and so on. In the tab for Members, start typing names of friends and Facebook will show you a list of options. Just click on the names you want to add to this list and then click create.

To add more people or to remove someone from the list later, refer to the earlier steps.

The 'Restricted' List will be at the bottom of all your Friend Lists. Anyone on this list can see only the information that you share publicly.


Let's see how we can use these Friend Lists to control your Privacy. You can go to settings by clicking on the arrow on the top right side of the blue bar (circled in the image below)

Once you click on that, select Settings from the drop down menu.

Click on Privacy on the left side bar.  These settings include:

  1. Who can see my stuff? By changing these settings (by clicking on 'Edit' on the extreme right) you control who sees whatever you post. Once you change these settings and select your audience (refer 1A - I will explain how 'Custom' works later) this will be your audience for ALL future posts, i.e., posts created/shared after changing these settings. You can also choose to review posts you are tagged in (others' posts where you have been tagged by friends) before they appear on your timeline. Also, you can choose the audience for your past posts.
  2. Who can contact me? If you've ever been flooded with friend requests from strangers, you can filter such requests by selecting what kind of people get to add you. For me, anyone who is friends with my friends, can send me a friend request (refer 2A). Also, the messages you receive in your Facebook inbox from strangers, will be moved to the 'Other' folder (you will not be notified when such messages are received) with the Basic Filtering.
  3. Who can look me up? I have selected 'everyone' (refer 3A) because if someone has my e-mail and phone number (these are private things) they know me at least a little bit. If you don't want people to search for you on Facebook using your e-mail or phone number, you can change these. And by selecting 'Yes' for the search engines part, it means that if someone Googles my name, they will get a link to my Facebook profile.

The next tab under Privacy is 'Timeline and Tagging.' Using this, you can control who can post to your timeline and who can view posts (yours and others') on your timeline.

And lastly, we have blocking; extremely important when someone is harassing you. Let's go over this point by point.

  1. Restricted List: The details of what this is and how it works, are available here. Click on edit list on the right side, to add/remove people to/from this list.
  2. Block Users: Blocking a user means your profile becomes invisible for them and vice versa. So if you search for them on Facebook, or they, you, you won't be able to find each other which means they cannot access any of your information. So use this when you absolutely don't want a person to see what you've been up to - not even your PUBLIC information. 
  3. Block app invites: Has a certain friend been sending you Candy Crush invites? Or invites from some other app? Then block invites from that friend.
  4. Block event invites: Similar to above.
  5. Block app: Use this to block an app, so you don't have to block app invites from friends individually.
  6. Block pages: Similar to above.

You can also directly go to a user's profile (whether they are on your friend list or not) to block them. Here's how.


Remember how my privacy said 'Custom'? Here's what it means and how you can do that!

It has been over 6 years since I joined Facebook, so I don't know what the default settings are when you join. But let's assume that the setting is such that Your Friends can see your posts. This automatically EXCLUDES everyone on your Restricted List. Awesome, right? Here's how you can customise it further! Click edit and then click on whatever option you see - the part that is circled below.

From the drop down menu, pick More Options.

Then click on Custom.

Once you do, you will see that the pop up box has two parts:

1. Share this with: Use this part whether you want only your friends to see this or friends or friends, i.e., people on your friends' friend lists. Also, notice how it says "Share this with these people or lists" which means if you want only Close Friends to see all your future posts, you can add that list here by just typing in the box and it will appear in the drop down menu. If you want only certain people/users to see your posts, type their name. But let me go to part 2, which makes things a lot easier.

2. Don't share this with: Say you don't want your co-workers to see everything you post, by typing Work Friends in the 'Dont share...' part, your setting now becomes... Share this with friends, except Work Friends. So type the names of specific people you don't want to share with, or names of your lists you don't want to share with.

Here's where creating those Friend Lists comes in handy. You can prevent multiple people from seeing your posts with one click! :)

See how others see your profile/timeline

Okay, so you've added someone to a Restricted list but you still want to be really sure if your stuff is hidden from them. There is a way; you can view your profile as someone else.

Go to your own profile/timeline and click on the three little dots and select View As.

It automatically shows what the Public can see - i.e., including anyone NOT on your friend list. But say you have Restriced XYZ's access to your information and you want to check how your profile appears to them. Click on View as Specific Person.

Then enter that person's name in the box. And done! :)


Once you've made your posts settings (under Privacy Settings) as custom, this means that ALL your future posts will have the same settings. But maybe you want a certain post to be visible to more people. No problem. After you've made the post, you can still change it's privacy. See the circled parts in the following images.

Note that if you change the settings before you post, those will be the new settings for ALL your future posts. So if you want to change it for only one post, it is a better idea to do it after you've posted.


All the above rules are applicable for your personal information. Every single aspect of your About page is subject to the same privacy rules - you can control who has access and visibility to your information.

Here's the overview I can see of my own information.

But I have made some information visible only to myself - like my phone number, e-mail and birthday. You can change the settings for these by clicking on 'Edit' on the right hand side.

So you see, everything in the About section - whether it is Work & Education, Family and Relationships, Contact Information and even Life Events - is under your control. You get to choose the visibility for each and every one of these aspects and you can choose all of these to be visible only to you by picking the 'Only Me' option. :)


A major concern for privacy arises with photos, because they can be stolen. If you are an artist and are worried about your work stolen and passed off as someone else's, the first thing you need to do is add a light watermark in the centre of picture in a way that it cannot be cropped out.

But for people who share pictures of themselves with family and friends, we are at risk of our pictures being photoshopped in less than desirable ways. So safeguard your pictures by choosing which friends get to see your pictures and which ones don't. Let's see how that works by going to the photos section of your timeline.

Under Albums, check the bottom right corner. For my album - Instagram Photos - the default settings by Facebook is that I can choose my audience for each photo. For photos in such albums (albums created by Apps) the default setting is Friends except Restricted. If you want to change the audience for a specific post, you can do that after you post the picture.

After you post the picture, open it and click on the icon near the date and time stamp (circled portion in the image) and change the privacy of the picture from there.

But for some albums, you can choose the audience for the entire album. Which means, every time you add a picture, only the people you've chosen, will be able to see them. In the picture below, see album 'Goa Diaries.'


You don't want strangers snooping around and seeing who you are friends with on Facebook, right? So here's how you control who sees your friend list. Yes, that can be done too.

On your timeline, click on Friends and then click on the pencil icon on the extreme right and choose Edit Privacy.

From there, you can choose who gets to see what!

Other Important Points

1. Every time you upload a NEW profile photo (not re-use an already uploaded one), it gets uploaded as PUBLIC - anyone can click on it, view it AND download it. So make sure you change the privacy of the photo, immediately after you upload it. Changing the privacy is a little difficult from mobile devices, so when you put up a new profile picture, try and do that from a desktop/laptop computer.

2. Your CURRENT cover photo is ALWAYS public. You CANNOT change it's privacy even if you want to. So if you're worried about your picture being misused, don't use an image that has any people in it; use a scenery or a quote or anything else. Try to not use other people's images so you can avoid copyright issues.

However, once you change your cover photo to a new one, you can change the privacy of the older one. This means, ONLY your CURRENT cover photo is always public. The other photos in the album can be hidden from everyone, if you so choose.

Even with all this, you still cannot trust everyone. You can protect yourself from strangers, people you are not friends with on Facebook. But what if someone on your friend list is a perv? What do we do then? I have no answer for this, but I can suggest that you pick your Facebook friends really carefully and put anyone you have the slightest doubt about, on Restricted access. 

That's all I can come up with for now. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. I will answer as soon as I can. :)



  1. This is a most helpful post! Thanks so much!

  2. Thanks a ton for taking time to write this comprehensive post kn FB security. Really helpful. Sharing!


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