Facebook Privacy Settings: How to Share as Little Data as Possible

There is of course no complete privacy on Facebook. But with our tips, you can keep your profile from revealing too much information about you.

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Björn GreifEditor

[This post has been completely updated and republished several times since its initial publication in 2018.]

The fact that Facebook collects huge amounts of data about virtually every Internet user has probably been common knowledge since the Cambridge Analytica scandal at the latest. Anyone who shys away from deleting their Facebook account and does not want to switch to a privacy-friendly alternative – despite repeated data leaks and poor justification attempts by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg before the US Congress – should at least restrict third-party access to their content and personal data. We explain the required privacy settings for this.

In general, you should always select the settings option that limits the access of third parties as far as possible. If you don’t want everyone inside and outside Facebook to see your content or activities, you should always avoid the “Public” setting. Sometimes it makes sense to use the option “Friends“, as otherwise they cannot post anything in your timeline, for example. The “Only me” setting should be used for personal data such as email address or date of birth, to prevent it from being visible to everyone.

You will find the privacy settings under “Settings” or “Privacy Shortcuts“. To get there in the mobile Facebook app, first touch the three horizontal lines at the top right (Android) or bottom right (iOS), scroll down and open the submenu “Settings & Privacy“. On the desktop you can access the account settings by clicking on the small triangle in the blue menu bar at the top right and then on “Settings“. Afterwards you select “Privacy” on the left. The “Privacy Shortcuts” are in the quick help menu, which you access by clicking on the question mark in the menu bar. Some important settings to protect your privacy can also be found in the account settings under the sections “Apps and Websites” as well as “Ads“.

With the “Privacy Checkup” (accessible via Privacy Shortcuts > Review a few important privacy settings) Facebook offers some assistants that allow you in a few steps to adjust the basic privacy settings for posts, profile, apps and websites. For example, you can choose the audience (“Public“, “Friends“, “Friends except…“, “Specific friends“, “Only me“) who can see your future posts, your date of birth, your provided email address and your friends list.

If you select Your data settings on Facebook in the Privacy Checkup, the assistant displays the apps and websites from third parties that you’ve used Facebook to log into. Here you can remove specific apps and websites. Be sure to regularly check the app list and keep it as short as possible. Remove the apps you no longer use. As the example of Cambridge Analytica has shown, apps may retrieve a lot of data from your profile. This information can then be used for advertising purposes or even to systematically influence you.

Under Settings > Apps and Websites > Logged in with Facebook you define who can see the apps and websites you use and which data they are allowed to access. Apps always have access to your public profile with your name, profile picture, age and other public information. By default, they can also see your friends list. However, this and other access rights can be revoked via the App settings.

If you don’t use any apps or games on Facebook, you should disable the app platform completely under Settings > Apps and Websites > Apps, Websites and Games: To do so, simply confirm with Turn Off.

Facebook uses the vast amount of information it collects on its own and other websites primarily to show you interest-based advertising. The more targeted ads are to your interests, the more successful they are and the more money Facebook can charge advertisers.

Under Settings > Ad Preferences you can at least roughly define what information Facebook may use for interest-based advertising and may share with other websites or apps for this purpose. Under “Ad settings“, you can choose whether or not you want to see interest-based ads on Facebook based on your use of websites and apps, whether or not third-party apps or websites are allowed to use your Facebook ad preferences, and if you want your friends to see what ads you’ve liked or shared.

Under “Your information” you define which profile information (relationship status, employer, job title, education) may be used for advertising. Here you also find the categories Facebook has sorted you into based on your behavior. Look at the individual categories and remove unwanted items.

You may also check your ad preferences to see what information Facebook already collected about you and used for advertising purposes. You can customize your interests and a list of advertisers you have interacted with or hide specific ad topics.

Go to Settings > Activity Log to subsequently hide content from timeline, delete posts or comments, remove friends or revoke likes. To do this, click on the arrow (mobile) or pencil (desktop) to the right of each entry and select the desired option.

To change the audience for posts already published in your timeline, click on “Limit who can see past posts” (mobile) or “Limit Past Posts” (desktop) under Settings > Privacy Settings. If you select this option, all your “Public” posts or posts shared with “Friends of friends” will only be shared with “Friends“.

In the “How People Find and Contact You” section of the privacy settings, you define who can send you friend requests, who can see your friends list, and who can look you up on Facebook using the email address or phone number you provided (“Everyone“, “Friends of friends“, “Friends“). If you do not want external search engines like Google or Bing to link to your profile and all contained information, you can and should also configure this here.

Under Settings > Timeline and Tagging you define who can post on your timeline and who can see what others post on your timeline.

Here you can also set whether you want to review tags in photos, videos or posts before they appear in your timeline. Additionally, you can review tags others add to your posts before the tags appear on Facebook.

But beware: To remove a tag from a photo, video or posting, you have to open the specific entry and delete the tag manually.

Once you have adjusted all your privacy settings, you should finally check what information and timeline content is still visible to others: Select the option “View As” on your profile page (desktop: accessible via the three-dots menu). Now you can see, what your profile looks like to someone who is not your friend. If you wish, you can also enter a friend’s name to see what your profile looks like to them. For more information about privacy basics, visit the Facebook website.

However, even the strictest privacy settings do not prevent Facebook, Google and Co. from collecting a vast amount of information about you. Using tracking scripts placed on numerous websites, they can still monitor much of what you do online even if you don’t use any of their services. Therefore, you should additionally protect yourself with anti-tracking tools such as Ghostery or Cliqz, which are available for download free of charge.