How to Use Facebook’s Privacy Tools

By Carolyn Abram, Amy Karasavas

What if you don’t want to worry about the small privacy settings on Facebook and who tagged what when? What if you just want to make sure that your Timeline looks the way you want to your friends and that people who aren’t your friends can’t see anything you don’t want them to see?

Well, the good news is that the View As tool allows you to do just that, and the Activity Log tool allows you to keep track of everything that’s been happening recently and to make any needed adjustments without trying to figure out which setting, exactly, needs to be changed. You can also run a privacy checkup to make sure that your expectations of what your privacy is matches the reality.

View As

To get to the View As tool, open the Quick Help menu (the question mark icon) in the big blue bar on top of any page. Click the Privacy Shortcuts menu item. This opens the Privacy Shortcuts menu. Click on the “Who Can See My Stuff?” section to expand the menu of options, then click the View As link.

Clicking View As brings you to your Timeline. Except, it’s probably not the way you usually see your Timeline. The black bar running across the top of the page lets you know that you’re currently viewing your Timeline as someone who is not your friend (also known as everyone in the Public bucket of people). You can click through to the various sections of your Timeline. (Photos tends to be a section that people like to check, double-check, and triple-check.)

Note that no matter how much you’ve hidden your information and posts, everyone can see your cover photo and profile picture, gender, and current city. Anything else the public can see can be hidden, if you so choose.

In the black bar on top of this view of your Timeline, there’s a white bold link labeled View as Specific Person. If you want to check on, for example, which acquaintances or people you’ve added to a list can see, click this link and enter a friend’s name into the text box that appears. If you’re surprised by what that friend can see, you can go change the privacy on any content you don’t want her to see.

Activity Log

As you’ve probably noticed, a lot happens on Facebook. You take all sorts of actions: liking, commenting, posting, and so on. And people take all sorts of actions that affect you: writing on your Timeline, tagging you in photos, and inviting you to join groups. If you want to know, line by line, everything that could possibly be seen about you by someone on Facebook, Activity Log is for you.

You can get to Activity Log from a few places. You can get there from the Privacy Shortcuts menu or from your own Timeline. On your Timeline, simply click the View Activity Log button, located at the bottom right corner of your cover photo. This takes you to Activity Log.

Facebook Activity Log
Here’s everything you’ve done on Facebook recently.

When you’re looking at Activity Log, notice that there’s a menu on the left for viewing only certain types of posts. For example, you can choose to view all the posts you’ve been tagged in, or all the photo posts, or all the app-related posts.

When you’re looking at an individual line item, you see several columns of information. First is an icon and sentence explaining what you did (or what a Friend did). This might be something like “Carolyn wrote on Dana’s Timeline” or “Carolyn was tagged in Dana’s photo.” Then there is a preview of that post, photo, comment, or whatever it is related to. For example, if you commented on a photo, the preview will show you that photo and the comment that you made.

To the right of the preview is an icon representing who can see that item. Hover your mouse over the icon to see text explaining who can see it. This might be the usual privacy options, or it might be members of a group you belong to, or in the case of a post to a Friend’s Timeline, it will be that person’s friends. For posts that you create, you can change the audience by clicking the icon, which opens the Privacy menu.

However, you’ll find you can’t change the privacy on lots of content. For example, a comment on someone else’s post isn’t something you can change the audience for. If you realize a comment you made or something you liked is visible to more people than you’d want, your only option is to delete that content.

You can delete content using the final icon to the right side of each item in Activity Log. This little pencil icon can be found all over the site and generally indicates that you can edit something. When you hover over the icon here, it explains that the item is allowed on Timeline. This means that people may see that item — possibly as its own post, possibly as a summarized item in recent activity, possibly in an Interests section when they visit your Timeline. Clicking the Edit button reveals a menu of options for changing whether something appears on Timeline.

For some items, such as likes or comments, the only option is to unlike the content or delete the comment. For others, like posts you’ve made or posts you’ve been tagged in, there are more options that allow you to hide something from the Timeline or edit it on your Timeline (these are the same options that appear when you go to edit or highlight something on your Timeline).

If something is visible on Timeline, it means that your Friends might see that item in their News Feed.

Privacy Checkup

Privacy Checkup is a tool Facebook built to make it easier for you to make sure that everything is on the up-and-up privacy-wise. Especially if you’ve been using Facebook for a long time, you can start to feel uncertain about who can see what. Privacy Checkup is designed to make it easy to become certain and feel comfortable sharing.

To use Privacy Checkup, open the Quick Help menu, and click on Privacy Checkup. This opens the Privacy Checkup window, which has three sections:

  • Posts: The first section concerns your posts, and lets you change the default setting for who can see the posts you make.
  • Apps: The second section shows your apps and lets you make choices about who can see the apps you use. In other words, the same things found in the Apps section of your settings page.
  • Profile: The third section shows some of the contact and basic information from your Timeline, and lets you double-check who can see each piece of information. You can edit your privacy for any of this information directly from the Privacy Checkup window.

One of the hardest moments to hear about from frustrated Facebook users is when they say, “But I thought no one could see that!” Privacy Checkup is a great way to make sure that what you think matches the reality of your privacy settings.