Facebook Privacy Settings Checkup

When’s the last time you looked at what strangers can see when they view your Facebook profile? You might be surprised by what’s public. Here’s what you can do to increase your privacy. Article written for Consumers’ Checkbook.

When you hit the “Post” button on Facebook, who can see what you shared? Your friends? Your friends of friends? What about all the stuff you posted when you first got on Facebook in the late-aughts? Who can see that?

Many users would be surprised to learn it’s often a lot more people than they think. From friends and colleagues to future employers to snoopers, millions of strangers might have access to your most personal thoughts, photos, and contact info.

You can delete your Facebook account to remove all your posts. But if you’re not ready to pull the plug, here’s how to scrub your profile of old posts and adjust your privacy settings.

Batch Delete Old Facebook Posts without Deleting Your Account

Facebook can be a fun time capsule of vacation photos and witty status updates, but sometimes you need to pare down your life history. Although you could always delete posts and pics one by one, until now it was a painstaking process.

This month Facebook rolled out a new tool that lets you get rid of stuff in bulk. It doesn’t offer everything we’d like—you can’t, for example, search for curse words to delete any pottymouth posts—but it does let you delete by date range and tagged people. Want to get rid of all posts that are older than five years? Wipe out any pics with an ex? Now you can purge in just a few minutes.

So far, this feature is available only on Facebook’s mobile app. To find it, go to your profile page. From there, click the three dots next to “Add Story,” and then click “Activity Log.” Next, look for a button that says “Manage Activity.” Next, tap “Your Posts.” From there you’ll be able to filter your posts and delete or archive them. (Our directions are based on using an iPhone; the wording for these steps may vary somewhat among the apps Facebook built for various manufacturers.)

Since the tool lets you quickly eliminate or hide most or all content you’ve shared, you can use it to tidy up your profile and maintain more privacy from the public without cutting yourself off from family and friends.

Check Your Off-Facebook Activity

Another tool launched earlier this year allows you to see the information businesses and organizations share with Facebook about you.

Many companies install the social network’s business tools on their websites and apps to enable them to track consumers’ actions such as searches, purchases, adding items to shopping carts, and more. It’s why after you check out a pair of shoes on a store’s website, your newsfeed contains offers for similar kicks.

While some consumers are fine with this arrangement, many of us want to minimize how information about our online behavior is shared with Facebook.

While logged in to your Facebook account, visit the Off-Facebook Activity page. From there, you can see which businesses have shared information with Facebook and what they’ve shared, delete that information, and manage what gets shared in the future.

(Like most organizations and businesses that connect with individuals via Facebook, Checkbook sometimes uses Facebook’s business tools. The Terms of Use section of our website describes how we share information with third-party services. You can opt out of this sharing using the tools explained above.)

General Facebook Privacy Tips

Want to see what strangers see when they pull up your profile? Visit your Facebook profile page and click “View As,” located under the three dots by your cover photo on desktop, or under the three dots next to “Add Story” on mobile. (This is the wording Facebook used when we checked using a PC and Firefox browser; the language might be a little different if you’re using a Mac or different browser or app.)

You can now view your page through the eyes of anyone on the Internet, including a prospective employer, friend, or ex.

If there’s anything you’d rather hide, or share with only your Facebook friends or friends of friends—such as your birthday, pages you like, or your phone number—now’s the time to run a Privacy Checkup. You also can adjust who is able to search for you on Facebook, and you can set up two-factor authentication, always a smart idea to protect yourself from hacks.

On mobile, go to the main menu, tap “Settings & Privacy,” then “Settings,” then scroll down to the Privacy heading and tap “Privacy Settings,” and finally “Check a few important settings.” On desktop, visit the main menu by clicking the arrow in the upper right corner of your screen, then “Settings,” and then “Privacy.”

Now you can edit who can see what you share, how to keep your account secure, how people can find you on Facebook, and review your data settings. You can also go back and edit the audience for past posts. So if you started your Facebook life broadcasting all of your updates to the public or friends of friends, and somewhere along the way changed it to only friends, you can change it for all of your posts.

Other tips:

  • Turn off Facebook’s facial recognition settings. Our view is that there’s little good that will come from Facebook having that data. On mobile, go to the main menu and tap “Settings & Privacy,” then “Settings,” then “Face Recognition Settings” under the Privacy heading. On desktop, go to the main menu by clicking the arrow in the upper right corner, then “Settings,” then “Privacy,” then “Face Recognition.”
  • Turn off location settings. Like Google, Facebook will use information your phone sends it to compile a history of where you go. From the main menu, go to “Settings & Privacy,” then “Settings,” and then choose “Location” to set your preferences on mobile. On desktop, “Location” is an option on the same page as “Face Recognition.”
  • Turn on the option to review posts you’re tagged in so you can see them and approve them before they show up on your profile without your permission. Toggle this on by visiting the main menu and tapping “Settings & Privacy,” then “Settings,” then “Timeline and Tagging” on mobile, or by clicking the “Timeline and Tagging” option on the same page as “Face Recognition” and “Location” on desktop.
  • Turn off Facebook links to search engines. It prevents anyone from entering your name into their favorite search engine and having your Facebook profile show up as a result. You can do this under the Privacy Checkup.

Remember that even if you decide to quit Facebook for good, you’ll still be connected to the company if you keep Instagram. Facebook acquired the app in 2012.