Facebook encourages you to share your life. But you don't want an employer to see your crazy drunken selfie, and there are probably things you don't want all your friends to see either. Facebook offers a slew of privacy features to help keep you and your data safe from prying eyes, but it's up to you to take advantage of them. Here's how to control what friends, strangers, apps, and advertisers can see and share.

Restrict your personal info

Your Timeline is your profile page on Facebook. It contains your name, birthday, contact info, Friends list, check-ins, likes, birthplace, and photos. Not only is this info used and shared to serve you ads, but it can also give bad agents a wealth of information they can use against you. For example, if you list your birthday or birthplace, that information could be helpful to identity thieves. Or if you include your birthday in an authentication method, such as your password or a security question, others can get the info from Facebook and use it to access your accounts.


Therefore you should keep as few personal details on Facebook as possible. If you don't provide your real birthday, you may miss out on a flood of birthday wishes, but your real friends will remember.

Control what strangers see

Restricting personal details is a good start, but you probably don't want strangers perusing your photos and status updates, either. We recommend restricting your profile access to friends only. Do so by going to Settings and Privacy (in the More menu in the mobile app) or click the padlock icon at top right (in the desktop version of Facebook) and go to "Who can see my stuff?"

After you change settings, test how your Facebook page appears to everyone who's not on your friends list. Open your Timeline, click the three dots next to View Activity Log (on the desktop) or the More button (on mobile), then select View As to see how your profile appears to the public. You can also toggle to View As Specific Person -- click that link, then type in a name and hit enter. If you see info in your About section that you don't want to be so visible, click your profile, then About, and Manage Sections, and uncheck all the sections you don't want to appear, such as Videos and Likes.

Control what friends see and do on your page

You can also control who sees what at the individual post level. Use the post window's upper right button (in the mobile app) or the button next to Post (on the desktop) to choose Public, Friends, Close Friends, Only Me, and so on. This also determines who can like or comment on your posts. Be aware that even if you set Friends as the limit, if you tag someone, that person and all of their friends will be able to see the post.

To add friends to your Close Friends list, head to your homepage and scroll down the left hand rail to Close Friends (on your desktop) or click More and scroll down to Close Friends (on mobile). Click Add Close Friends (on mobile) or Add Close Friends to List (right rail on desktop) to add them one by one.

Another option is to create a custom Group. This is helpful if you want a shortcut for sharing with select people -- for example, if you want to share baby photos only with family members, or if you want to share posts about politics only with like-minded friends. To set up a group, go to Main Menu, then Create Group (on desktop) or More and then Create Group (on mobile) to start setup.

If you accidentally share something publicly, click the post's upper right button, then Edit Privacy (on mobile) or the People button under your name (on desktop) to limit your audience. To edit or delete a post, head to your Timeline, click the post's upper right button, and choose Edit Post or Delete.


Do you want all friends to be able to post to your Facebook page? If not, open Settings on your desktop and select Timeline and tagging. There you can adjust who can add status updates or photos to your Timeline, as well as how you'd like Facebook to manage your tags. We suggest choosing to review all tagged posts and photos of you before peers see them on your Timeline. To untag yourself from a photo on mobile, go to it, click the More button, and choose Remove Tag. On your desktop, go to Options underneath your photo and select Remove Tag. You can never be retagged in this photo.

Keep in mind that you don't control who sees your likes and comments on anyone else's Timeline. Whoever sees your friend's Timeline can see your posts there. However, you can tap your comment (on mobile) or scroll over your comment (on desktop) to edit or delete it.

Choose your friends wisely


We recommend accepting friend requests only from people you actually know. You can control who is able to friend you under Settings, Privacy, and "Who can contact me?".

When a user who's not your friend searches for you on Facebook, they'll see your name, username, gender, profile picture, cover photo, and user ID, as well as your Facebook networks. If you view your profile as Friends of Friends or Public and see posts that you forgot to make Friends only, click each post's audience button and adjust the privacy setting. If you don't want others to be able to search for your account on Facebook or via Google, set search limits under Settings, Privacy, and "Who can look me up?" (on desktop).

It's also important to consider who has access to your Friends list, because friend snatchers may send them friend requests. To limit access, open Facebook on your desktop, go to your Timeline, click the Friends section on the left-hand side, then Edit Privacy. There you can limit access to Friends, Friends Except Acquaintances, or Only Me (we recommend the last).


Block and unfriend


If you wish to remove or limit contact with a Facebook friend, you can block or unfriend. Unfriended individuals will no longer be able to see anything you share only to friends, but they can see posts that are public or (if you have mutual friends) things in friends of friends' posts. Blocked individuals can no longer add you as a friend, see what you post (unless it's public), tag you, invite you to events or groups, or communicate with you.

Tap on your Friends tab (mobile) or go to your Friends page and click the Friends button (desktop), then select Unfriend to cease connection. To block someone entirely, go to their profile, click the More button (mobile) or the three dots (desktop) at the top right and choose Block.

Use Privacy Checkup

Facebook frequently updates its features, so it's a good idea to check your privacy regularly. Go to View As on your Timeline to see what the public can see on your page. On the desktop, you can also click the padlock icon at top right, then Privacy Checkup to check and modify your privacy settings.

Disable location tracking

Facebook constantly collects your information: from every post, message, and purchase; every interaction with third-party apps that rely on Facebook Services; every address book you sync or import from your device on the social media site.

The company also collects location info for every photo you post from your device. Turn off Location Services on your mobile device to prohibit this. Facebook may collect your device info (operating system, hardware version, browser type, and so on) and associate it to provide a fluid experience across devices. Learn more about Location Services.

Opt out of targeted ads

When you see an ad that you'd rather not, click the top right button above it, then click "Why am I seeing this?". You will get a response describing why, such as you've visited the product website before. To opt out of targeted ads, click Manage Your Ad Preferences (mobile) or go to Settings and select Ads in the left rail (desktop). There you can add or remove preferences. To opt out of seeing ads on your device based on your use of websites and apps off Facebook, head to Device settings, then Privacy, then the Advertising section, and turn the Limit Ad Tracking option on. Facebook often serves you ads based on the pages you like and ads you've clicked on. Click the Ad menu to hide all ads from a particular advertiser as well. This helps Facebook show you more relevant ads.


Limit other apps connected to Facebook

You may not realize, but whenever you connect another app to Facebook or use Facebook to log in to another app or site, your name, profile picture, cover photo, gender, networks, username, and user ID become available to that third-party app. Also, everyone on Facebook can see that you use this app.

We recommend that you go to Facebook's main menu, then Settings, then Apps (on desktop) or to More, then Account Settings, then Apps (on mobile) to see which apps are connected. You can hover over them and click Edit Settings to change the visibility and/or reduce the info that you provide to the app. You can also just click the X to remove the connection altogether. Underneath you can tweak the amount of third-party app usage info that you share with Facebook and change game settings to play anonymously.

Manage your activity

The Activity Log shows all your actions on Facebook -- likes, comments, and so on. Only you can see your Activity Log, but it's a handy place for managing activities, such as editing or hiding items on your Timeline, unliking, and changing who can see the post. Reach it from the main menu on your desktop or the top nav on your mobile device. You can also download your account information through the Download Your Information tool.


Deactivate your account

Of course, one way to avoid oversharing on Facebook is to deactivate your account. This disables your profile and removes your name and photos from your posts. You may still appear in a friend's Friends list or in old messages.

For the desktop version, go to the Settings menu, click Security, and choose Deactivate. In the Facebook mobile app, select More, then Account Settings, then Security, and then scroll down to Account. Follow the prompts and you're done. You may reactivate anytime or delete your account altogether here.

When you delete your account, Facebook deletes your posts. But be aware that information that others have shared about you won't be deleted.

Plan for your social afterlife


Do you want your Facebook account to live on after you've died? You can set up a friend or loved one as your Legacy Contact to manage the page. On your desktop, go to Settings and Security, then click Legacy Contact and add your preferred person for the job. On your mobile device, you'll find this section under More, then Account Settings and Security. Your designated page tender will be able to do anything except post as you or view your messages. Alternatively, if you want your account to die with you, then choose Account Deletion.

More resources

Security and Antivirus Center
Location Services 101

Joshua Rotter is a copy editor for Download.com and covers iOS.