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Controlling Who Sees What

Facebook gives you some very specific settings for controlling what parts of your Facebook life are visible and who gets to see them.

Your home base for most of the settings you’ll want to change is the Privacy Settings page. To find it, hover your pointer over Settings (at the top right of the screen, in the blue bar) until the menu appears. Then choose Privacy Settings.

How to Customize Your Profile Info for Specific People

You can choose who has access to almost anything that appears on your Profile page. To start refining who sees which parts of your Facebook persona, Choose Settings > Privacy Settings > Profile, then choose the Basic tab.

The first control at the top of the page, labeled Profile, lets you choose who is allowed to visit your Facebook Profile page. Click the pop-up menu and you’ll see four choices: My Networks and Friends, Friends of Friends, Only Friends, and Custom.

If you choose My Networks and Friends, then in addition to all of your Facebook friends, anyone who belongs to one of the Networks you’ve joined can look at your Profile page. (This includes your regional Network, like Los Angeles; your school Networks; and your employer Networks.) This is the widest possible setting in terms of how many people you give access to—although it’s still only a fraction of the total people on Facebook.

The next step down in visibility is the Friends of Friends option: Your profile will be open to all of your Facebook friends, plus any friend of one of your Facebook friends. It’s more restrictive than the My Networks and Friends setting, because a person has to share at least one mutual friend with you before they can look at your Profile page.

The next setting, Only Friends, is fairly self-explanatory: Only people you’ve added as a friend on Facebook will be able to view your profile.

The fourth setting, Custom, opens the Edit Custom Settings dialog. The settings here are a little more complex but very useful, giving you more options for controlling who can see your information. If you want to slice up your profile information and serve different segments to different audiences, this is the place to do it.

There are specific controls for all the parts of your profile on the Privacy Settings > Profile page (under both the Basic and Contact Info tabs). Each control has its own pop-up menu, and they all work pretty much the same. To find out what a specific control like Status Updates affects, click on the little question mark next to the pop-up menu, and a description will appear.

How to Use Friend Lists to Fine-Tune Your Control

Here’s one of the places where organizing your friends into Friend Lists really pays off. Some of the controls on the Privacy Settings > Profile page have additional options in the Custom dialog that let you choose specific Friend Lists to allow or deny access to.

For example, the Custom dialog for Status Updates has a Some Friends option in addition to Friends of Friends and Only Friends.

The Some Friends option is also available in the Custom dialogs for Photo Tagged of You, Videos Tagged of You, Wall Posts, Education Info, and Work Info, as well as all of the controls under the Contact Info tab.

So, for example, on the Contact Information tab you could choose a Friend List to share your mobile phone number with—so that only the people on that list have access to it. You might choose to display your work e-mail address only to the people on your Co-Workers Friend List, while sharing your personal address with the people on your Trusted Friends list.

Some of the controls also have an Except These People option down at the bottom of the Custom dialog.

This is where you get to put up the velvet rope that blocks access to specific parties. Anyone you enter in the Except These People field will be excluded from viewing the info in question, regardless of whether they belong to any of the categories, Friend Lists, or Networks you granted access to. You can type the names of individual people or Friend Lists in this field. If you already have a Friend List called Limited Profile or Restricted Access, you can enter it here.

How to Control What Gets Announced on Your News Feed and Wall

A key part of the Facebook experience is that when you do certain things, Facebook announces it to your friends. If you add a new friend, post a photo or video, write on someone’s Wall, or take other actions that might be interesting to your fans and admirers, Facebook may generate a story about it. (Examples: “Dave Awl is now friends with Becca Freed.” Or “Dave Awl commented on Becca Freed’s photo.”) That story can then be visible to your Facebook friends in a variety of places, such as the News Feed area of the Home page.

The Privacy Settings > News Feed and Wall page lets you control whether or not Facebook generates those feed stories, and which ones.

The set of checkboxes under the heading “Actions visible to friends” is where you can allow or disallow specific kinds of stories. I recommend leaving most of these checkboxes selected, unless you’re feeling incredibly shy or just aren’t comfortable yet with Facebook’s tendency to publicize what you do. (This “Facebook stage fright” is a fairly common reaction among Facebook newbies, but most people quickly become acclimated and recognize the value of letting their Facebook activities be visible.)

The “Show stories in Chat” option allows News Feed stories about you to be displayed within Facebook’s Chat application. (See the Communicating on Facebook chapter for info on Chat.)

As Facebook makes explicitly clear on this page, there are certain actions that are never reported in Facebook stories. Here are the most important from the list: Inbox messages (which are private, as opposed to Wall posts); profiles, photos, and Notes that you view (Facebook doesn’t report on your reading and browsing habits); and people you remove from your friends.

How to Control Whether You Show Up in Search Results

On the Privacy Settings page, click Search. You’ll see a Search Discovery area with a Search Visibility pop-up menu.

The default setting is Everyone, which means anyone who searches Facebook. (This doesn’t mean they can see your profile—just the search result itself.) You can restrict your search visibility with the other choices in this menu, which work the same way as the Privacy controls already discussed.

The controls under the Search Result Content heading let you decide whether the people who aren’t allowed to see your profile are able to contact you, and what forms of communication they can use.

The Public Search Listing control lets you decide whether people can find your Facebook listing on search engines such as Google, as well as within Facebook applications. Select the checkbox to create a public search listing, or deselect the checkbox if you don’t want to make the listing available.

Click the “see preview” link to take a look at how your listing would appear, which may help you make up your mind.

How to Block People

If you don’t want any contact with someone else who’s on Facebook, you can block them on the Privacy Settings page. (This is an especially important step to perform if someone has harassed or threatened you in any way—right before you report that person to Facebook.)

Blocking someone on Facebook not only prevents them from using Facebook to contact or communicate with you on Facebook, it makes you virtually invisible to them—like Harry Potter’s magic cloak.

To block someone, type his or her name in the box, and click Block. Facebook will show you a results page listing people who match what you typed, so that you can pick the precise person whom you want to block. Click Block Person next to the appropriate listing, and presto! You’re done.

How to Opt Out of Appearing in Social Ads

Click the Social Ads tab on the Privacy Settings > News Feed and Wall page, and you’ll arrive at the Social Ads page. If you buy something or become a fan of a Facebook Page after clicking on a Social Ad, then Facebook friends of yours may see your name and/or face appearing in that ad the next time it pops up for them.

You can opt out of appearing in Social Ads by setting the menu on the Social Ads page to “No one,” instead of the default choice, “Only my friends.” (See the Pages and Ads chapter for more about Social Ads.)

How to Opt Out of Beacon Advertising

Beacon is Facebook’s advertising program that allows external Web sites to submit stories to your Facebook News Feed about purchases you make on those sites. For example, if you buy a movie ticket using Fandango, a message might appear on your Wall: “Harold Foo just bought a ticket to see Wall-E on Fandango.”

Selecting the “Don’t allow Beacon websites to post stories to my profile” checkbox on the Privacy Settings > Applications page opts you out of Beacon entirely, and no Beacon stories about you will be published on Facebook.

But even if you leave this box deselected, you’ll still be given the opportunity to approve or cancel each individual Beacon story before it appears on your profile. So if you like sharing your taste in movies, music, or other purchases, you might prefer to leave this checkbox deselected, and then decide on a case-by-case basis whether you want any given story to appear. Approve the ones you like, and spike the ones you don’t.

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