11 things you might want to stop doing or delete from your Facebook profile to protect your privacy
Quietly, over the last year, Facebook has killed the concept of a private account.
The site has always had a love-hate relationship with privacy: it’s long offered some of the most granular controls of any social network for choosing who sees what content, letting users make posts visible on a sliding scale from “everyone” to “only me”.
That’s increasingly important for Facebook, which has seen a reduction of 21% in “original sharing”, users making posts about their own life. As people have become more aware of the downsides of sharing personal details publicly, it seems that they’ve stopped sharing altogether. Letting them have some control over who sees what they post is an important part of restoring trust.
But at the same time, it relies more on network effects than most social networks. The value of Facebook isn’t that celebrities are on it: it’s that everyone you know is on it, and is posting to boot.
So it’s perhaps unsurprising to find that gradually, the highest tier of privacy settings have been removed by Facebook. You can still hide individual posts, but your Facebook account itself is now public, whether you like it or not.
How do I know? Because my own Facebook presence has been fully exposed to the outside world with no warning or control.
I’m one of those people who says they aren’t on Facebook – the 21st Century equivalent saying you don’t have a TV (I also say I don’t have a TV). In fact, I am on Facebook, but with an account with zero friends and privacy settings ramped up to max in every way allowable (I also have a TV, but only for use with a PS4. So sue me).
I had deleted my Facebook account for good in 2014, tired of everything about the site and unwilling to put the effort in to prune old schoolfriends and weird colleagues from my friendship list.
A year later, I didn’t miss the site at all, but needed an account for work – to manage the Guardian’s technology page, amongst other things. So I made a new one, with accurate, but minimal info. In the end, I had to enter my real name, real email address, and real phone number, to get on the site.
Because I didn’t want to actually use the site to speak to people, I locked down my privacy settings. My profile wouldn’t show up in search unless someone was a friend of a friend (so, in practice, it wouldn’t show up at all), and no-one could add me as a friend unless they were a friend of a friend (again, in practice, a blanket block).
In October, that all changed. Facebook rolled out an update to its internal search engine, letting users search the entire network for the first time. All public posts became searchable for everyone, but private posts weren’t affected. When it made the change, though, the social network also removed a privacy setting entirely: it’s now not possible to choose to hide your profile from strangers.
Every profile on Facebook now shows up when users search for it by name, even those, like mine, with the tightest possible settings, no friends in common, no profile picture, and no content posted. Worse, if you then click on the profile, a large amount of information is still public: any page I’ve liked, any group I’ve joined, and, if I had any, every friend I have on the site.
And although I can’t be added as a friend by strangers – thanks to the requirement that they be a friend of a friend – I can be “followed” by them, letting them be notified of any future posts. That’s because, helpfully, the ability to turn off that feature isn’t under “privacy” but under a different tab – Followers.
In the meantime, Facebook has also managed to use the sparse information about me to fill my entire “suggested friends” column with people I actually know in real life, including such distant connections as my step-father’s niece (step-cousin?), the man who ran a book group I went to in 2013, and the journalist who sits behind me in the office. Despite the fact that a privacy setting means that “only friends” can look me up using the email address and phone number provided, the company still feeds the information into its matching algorithms, meaning it’s able to connect me in its own database with any other user who has uploaded their address book to the site.
There’s a name for this sort of layout: anti-patterns. Facebook can truthfully say that it does what it promises, and even offers settings that let people lock-down their own accounts, while designing the site so even internet-savvy users like me will end up exposing information we never intended to make public.
Perhaps that’s why Facebook acted so quickly to kill a story that it was using location data as part of the “find friends” feature (it initially said it was, then recanted and said that the data was only used for a short test). The company doesn’t need information given unwillingly, when so many users end up giving it unknowingly. So, not for the first time: check your Facebook settings. You may be surprised.
Facebook 's latest announcement has left many confused and worried about their privacy - if you're one of them here's what you should do.
The social media site said it is going to start pushing ads to every single person who uses third-party sites signed up to its advertising scheme.
With 1.49 bn users, Facebook wields a lot of power, which makes the news even more worrying.
What has caused more upset is the fact it targets you regardless of whether you have an account or not.
As Facebook uses your information and how you act - whether you are signed up to the site or not - you might want to revise what information you are sharing with people.
It isn't just your profile that will need amending, but here are a few ways you can clean it up to get started and protect your privacy.
1. Phone number
Don't put your number on your Facebook page - even when it prompts you.
If if you add it and keep it hidden, you'll still get the prompts.
Plus, you know, stalkers.
Your birthday is part of the puzzle scammers need to access your personal details and bank account.
Keep it off your Facebook - or risk losing your money once they get your name (easy peasy) and address.
3. Keep it to real friends
Robin Dunbar, an Oxford psychology professor, has said humans can maintain about 150 stable relationships at once.
He looked at 3,375 Facebook users, he found out of their Facebook friends, 4.1 were seen as dependable, and 13.6 showed sympathy during an “emotional crisis.”
Time to clear out that Facebook and keep it to the people you know - and trust.
4. Relationship status
Once upon a time, no relationship was real until it was confirmed on Facebook, but these days it's better to keep that lovin' feeling to yourself.
People have already cottoned on to how adverts appear suddenly promoting wedding dresses and venues as soon as the engagement post goes up on the social media site.
Just save it for your friends.
5. Credit card details
We shouldn't need to even explain that this is never, ever a good idea.
6. Your boss
This should be fairly obvious, but having your manager or boss on Facebook has various pitfalls. Like them seeing your nights out, or any interactions, rants, shameful statuses.
It's fine to relax and have a bit of fun, but when all your workmates are watching it's probably best to minimise the embarrassment and keep it fairly clean.
There's been many a tale of interviews going horribly wrong after a CEO or interviewer takes a look at the candidates profile.
Plus - no moaning about work.
7. Stop tagging your location
Whenever you tag yourself you're giving away a lot of information. Whether you're in your house, where you live, what you're doing...
8. When and where you're going for holiday
Talking about location, don't tag yourself with 'off on holiday' or your snaps until you're home.
You're sending out a massive clue as to how long you'll be away.
In some cases if you tag yourself, or post your holiday plans, the insurance claim won't be accepted, according to This is Money.
9. Photographs of your children or young family
There's many reasons for this, but the most obvious are a) they aren't consenting, and b) your photos can often be seen by friends and then friends of their friends...
Think about who you want to have access to your photos.
10. Where your children go to school
It just sends up a big flag as to what your children are doing, where they are and when. Keep it private and don't post.
11. Location services
Android or iPhone users, switch off your location settings.
Most of us access Facebook via our phone, which means you could be letting everyone know your location.