Facebook Privacy Settings Tutorial

Learn how to share only what you want with the people you choose

Woman touching a transparent lock representing electronic privacy

Yuichiro Chino / Getty Images

Facebook's privacy settings are complicated and change often, making it hard for people to take control of their privacy on the world's largest social network. Facebook made major changes to its privacy controls in 2011, so some older controls either no longer apply or have moved to other areas of your Facebook pages.


How to Adjust Facebook Privacy Settings

It's important to pay attention to your privacy settings on Facebook and learn the basics of how to control who sees the content you are sharing. Otherwise, Facebook may choose default settings that will share more information with the public than you intend or want.

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The Basics of Accessing Facebook Privacy Controls

There are two basic ways to access privacy controls on Facebook:

  1. Go to Options > Settings Privacy. This takes you to the main privacy settings page, where you should take the time to wade through all the options. They are explained below and on the two subsequent pages of this tutorial.
  2. By accessing what Facebook calls the inline privacy controls or inline audience selector, a menu that appears right next to whatever content you are posting or sharing. This inline privacy menu is supposed to make it easier to choose different privacy settings for different types of content, so you can make sharing decisions on a case-by-case basis.
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The Facebook Privacy Controversy

A screenshot of the default Facebook Privacy Settings

Privacy advocates have long criticized Facebook for collecting too much information about its users and not always clearly disclosing how it shares that user data with third parties. In late November 2011 Facebook agreed to settle a complaint filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over its data disclosure policies.

The FTC's settlement order accused Facebook of deceiving its users by doing such things as abruptly changing their default privacy settings without advance notice. As part of the settlement, Facebook agreed to submit to privacy audits for the next two decades.

Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg wrote a blog post about the settlement acknowledging that the social network he founded had made "a bunch of mistakes" involving privacy, but nonetheless said that the agreement "formalizes our commitment to providing you with control over your privacy and sharing..."

Unfortunately, in 2018, Facebook was caught in another privacy scandal after it was disclosed the company allowed more than 50 million profiles to be harvested by Cambridge Analytica as part of a data mining expedition designed to help influence voters during the 2016 election. 

Do Facebook Default Settings Over Share?

Privacy advocates and regulators have long criticized the social network for setting default privacy options that make too much of each user's profiles public, which means it can be viewed by anyone and everyone. The result can be a loss of personal privacy for various reasons.

Many people want to make Facebook private so only their friends see most of what they post on the network. You can do that by adjusting your Facebook Privacy Settings.

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A Closer Look at Default Facebook Privacy Settings

A screenshot of the Facebook Privacy Settings Page where users can set their default privacy settings.


The privacy settings page for your Facebook account, shown above, is designed to let you specify how widely you want to share material in various contexts on Facebook. To access these options the Options dropdown menu, choose Settings, and then select Privacy Settings.

In the Your Activity section of the Privacy Settings and Tools page, your first option is Who can see your future posts? 

For many years, the default sharing option for new Facebook accounts was "public" for who can see what you post on Facebook — your status updates, photos, videos, links, and other content. By default, it was set to Public, so unless you changed it to Friends anyone and everyone could see your posts.

In the spring of 2014, Facebook announced a significant change in its default privacy sharing option for new accounts, automatically sharing posts only with Friends and not the general public. It's important to note this change ONLY affects Facebook accounts created in 2014 or later. Users who first signed up for Facebook before 2014 got a Public default sharing option, which they may or may not have changed. It's easy to change the default sharing option, provided you know-how.

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How to Change Your Default Facebook Privacy Settings

Screenshot of Facebook web page, showing Options and Settings menu items

The option you set for your default privacy is important because it will be the default for everything you post on Facebook unless you override it manually using the audience selector box or inline sharing menu each time you post something. Facebook has a general rule governing all of your posts (the "default" level of sharing) and also an individual level of sharing which you can set for individual posts, which can be different from the general default.

Sounds complicated, but it means you can have your general default sharing level set to only Friends but occasionally use the audience selector box on specific posts to, make a general statement viewable to anyone (Public), or make a particular post only viewable to a list you might create of specific people. For example, your family.

This default sharing option also determines who can see posts you make from other applications that lack Facebook's inline privacy controls.

Use these instructions to change your default Facebook Privacy Settings:


These are also the same settings you can adjust on an individual basis using the Inline Privacy Controls when you're posting something to your Facebook wall.

  1. Go to the Options dropdown menu and choose Settings.
  2. On the Settings page, select Privacy.
  3. Next to each item in the Your Activity and How People Find and Contact You sections of the Privacy Settings and Tools page, click Edit to change the default settings. 
Screenshot of Privacy Settings and Tools on Facebook website
  1. Your options are:​
    1. Public: Anyone can see what you post or the details of your profile page.
    2. Friends: Only your friends can see your posts and information.
    3. Friends except: Allows you to exclude certain contacts. 
    4. Specific friends: Customize who sees something by adding a list of specific people from your friends list.
    5. Only me: Your information or posts will go to your page, but you are the only person who will be able to see those specific items.
    6. Custom: Allows you to include or exclude people from your friends list or group lists that you have created or are part of.

Any lists that you are part of will appear below these options, and you can choose to share information or posts only with those one or more of those lists.

Most people will want to select the Friends option for posts and other activity but may prefer to further narrow the ways in which people can find and contact them.

To be clear, when you're using Facebook's website to post anything, you can always override this default by using the inline privacy menu appearing directly below the status box.

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Additional Facebook Privacy Settings

Screenshot of Your Facebook Information tab of Facebook privacy settings on the web

Privacy controls appear for additional Facebook areas or features on the main Settings page. Each of the menu items in the left navigation menu contains additional settings that you can adjust to further lock down your privacy. Here's a quick overview of those settings. 


This is not an exhaustive list of every setting and privacy option available on Facebook. It is an overview of the most important privacy options and sections. 

  1. Your Facebook Information: This section contains menu items that allow you to adjust who can see and download specific types of information about you and your Facebook activities. It may take some time to navigate and adjust all the settings you'll find here because some of these options take you to a deeper page that contains dozens or even hundreds of categories you can tweak. 
  2. Timeline and Tagging: This section contains information about who can see your timeline, who can tag you in posts, and what your review options are for those posts before they are made public.
    Tagging is a way that people can label any photo or post with your name, which makes that photo or post appear in various news feeds and search results for your name. Think of a tag as a name label, and here is where you control how your name label is used. Also, this is where you control whether your friends can check you into any Place on Facebook, which may signal to people things about your whereabouts that you really don't want to publicize.
  3. Location: If you have a Facebook mobile app on your smartphone, you may find that Facebook is tracking your location. This is where you adjust those settings. If you only use Facebook on a desktop or laptop computer, then your location settings are set to Off by default.
  4. Blocking: This section allows you to create a Restricted List, which is people you are friends with, but that you don't want to see everything you post. You'll also find settings to Block usersBlock messages, and Block app invites among other things in this section.
  5. Face Recognition: Have you ever noticed that Facebook can examine pictures of you and pick your face out of a crowd? If so, and that weirds you out, this is where you can change that setting. Just click Edit to turn this option on and off
  6. Public Posts: Here's where you adjust settings for who can follow you, who can comment on your public posts or view your public profile.
  7. Apps and Websites: Do you take those quizzes that tell you things like what you're Star Wars personality is? Do you use Facebook to log in to other websites or games? If so, you'll definitely want to review your privacy settings and preferences in this menu. There are plenty of options to go through to help you decide who gets to see your information and how it is shared.
  8. Instant Games: If you play games through Facebook, you should review these permissions and privacy settings, too.
  9. Business Integrations: This setting may not be useful to everyone, but if you have allowed business applications like MailChimp, Hootsuite, TweetDeck, or Social Pilot to access your Facebook account, here where you can set just how much access they can have.
  10. Ads: This may be one of the most important settings in terms of your privacy and the security of your personal information and what you share on Facebook. Be sure to go through all of the ad settings so you'll be comfortable knowing that you control what you're sharing and with who. 
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