Privacy on Facebook can be complex, but if you're prepared to put in some effort, you can exercise a fine degree of control over who can and can't see your personal information.

Facebook privacy settings are constantly developing as new features arrive, so you need to keep on top of things. Here are our top Facebook tips for managing your privacy while still being sociable.

1. Privacy settings

You can access Facebook's main privacy settings by logging in and then choosing 'Account | Privacy settings' from the menus in the top-right corner of the page. Most – but not all – of your account settings can be accessed from here. There's a summary of your current privacy levels, along with links to modify them.

2. Quick privacy level

On the 'Privacy settings' page, there are three quick privacy levels that you can set in a single click. These are shown to the left of the summary, and include 'Everyone', 'Friends of friends' and 'Friends only'.

The 'Everyone' setting is the equivalent of broadcasting all your information as widely as possible and should be avoided. 'Friends of friends' isn't much better, because you have no control over who your friends connect with. 'Friends only' is a reasonable starting point for protecting your information, but bear in mind that you'll need to make some tweaks to customise it.

20 ways to control facebook privacy

QUICK CONTROL: Choose 'Friends only' to adjust your settings quickly. This is a good basic level of privacy, but it's worth fine-tuning it a little.

3. Basic directory

From 'Privacy settings', choose 'View settings' under 'Connecting on Facebook'. This displays the information that's available to everyone, and the functions that enable people to find and contact you. If you want to be able to receive messages from anyone, set 'Send me messages' to 'Everyone'.

It makes sense to limit 'Education' and 'Work' to 'Friends only', and set 'Friend requests' to 'Friends of friends'. If you find yourself receiving inappropriate requests you can choose it lock it down to 'Friends only', although this eff ectively prevents you from gaining any new friends.

4. Customise settings

Avoid the 'Recommended' level in your privacy settings. This leaves details such as relationships and your birthday open to pretty much anyone. To alter each setting individually, click 'Customise settings' at the bottom of the summary. Here you can set a privacy level for each of the items you share, plus those others share about you and your basic contact information.

5. Preview profile

You can preview your Facebook profile as a general user by choosing 'Customise settings' from your 'Privacy settings' page. At the top of this page, click the button marked 'Preview my profile'. This will display your profile as it appears to a Facebook user who isn't listed as one of your friends. Use the preview to check information that's publicly available.

6. Preview as someone else

In this preview page, you can also choose to view your profile as a specific user might see it. Enter a username in the box marked 'Preview how your profile appears to a specific person'. Select the completed name to see this person's view of your profile. You can use this to help you tweak your privacy settings for friends.

20 ways to control facebook privacy

PROFILE PREVIEW: Preview your profile as it can be seen by any named Facebook user to check what information that person can access.

7. Facebook search

If you'd rather not be found in a general search, you can set everything to 'Friends only', but if you've modified any settings or just want to double check, try the following. Go to 'Account | Privacy settings' and then choose 'View settings' under 'Basic directory information'. Next to 'Search for you on Facebook', ensure that the setting is 'Friends only'.

8. Web search

The default setting for web searches enables search engines such as Google to pick up your Facebook profile. Again, the global 'Friends only' setting should prevent your profile being available this way, but it's a good idea to double check to make sure. In 'Privacy settings' choose 'Edit your settings' under 'Applications and websites'. Next to 'Public search', click 'Edit settings' and ensure that the box marked 'Enable public search' isn't checked.

9. Places

You can limit who has access to geolocation information by choosing 'Customise settings' on the 'Privacy settings' page. Now set 'Places I check into' to 'Friends only'. Also clear the box marked 'Include me in people here now after I check in' to prevent other people who are checked in nearby seeing your location.

10. Friends lists

You may be comfortable sharing some information with close friends, but not work colleagues. You can add greater flexibility by setting up friends lists. From your homepage, choose 'Friends' in the left-hand column and click 'Edit friends' at the top of the page. Now select 'Create a list'. Enter a name for the list and select each of the friends you want to add to it, then click 'Create list'. Repeat for each list you want to create.

20 ways to control facebook privacy

FRIENDS SEARCH: Set the people who can search for you on Facebook to 'Friends only' to stop people finding and contacting you out of the blue.

11. Control visibility by list:

You can now send updates to people on a particular list. Enter an update as normal, click the padlock below it and choose 'Customise'. Under 'Make this visible to' choose 'Specific people' and enter your list name. Under 'Hide this from', enter the name of the list you want to exclude. You can do the same with individual privacy settings. Go to 'Customise settings' and select 'Customise' for one of the items. You can now enter lists to make it visible or hide it from in the same way.

12. Chat privacy

You can also manage your chat availability using lists. Click the chat window and choose 'Friends lists'. Now tick each of the lists that you want to be visible in chat to and clear any that you don't want to be displayed. Within the chat window, click the button next to each list to appear offline to those people. You can be online to some lists and offline to others.

13. Delete an update

If you want to remove a previous status update, you can do so on your wall. Go to your profile and select the wall. Now scroll down to the update that you want to remove. Move your mouse over the update and click the 'X' to the right of it. Choose 'Remove post' and click 'Remove post' again to confirm.

14. Photo privacy

When you're uploading photos to Facebook, remember that you could be inadvertently invading someone else's privacy. Make sure that you have their permission to post images of them. Also be aware that anyone can tag a photo if they have access to it. You can set your photos to 'Friends only', but it only changes future albums. You need to change the settings of existing albums individually.

20 ways to control facebook privacy

SHARING: Choose 'Applications and websites' from the 'Privacy settings' page to remove apps and control data available to other sites.

15. Event privacy

If you create an event from your homepage, it becomes public by default and appears in your feed. You might want to avoid this if the event is a surprise. Instead, click 'What are you planning?' under 'Events' on your homepage. Click the padlock and choose 'Private' before entering any details or inviting anyone. Only invitees will be able to see the details.

16. Messages reply to all

The default setting for replaying to a message on Facebook is 'Reply to all'. If a message is sent to a lot of recipients, you can be caught out by sending a private message to everyone. Click the name of the person you want to respond to in the thread and choose 'Reply' to respond to that person only.

17. Liking

Be sparing with your likes. Every time you click 'Like' on a fan page, it shows up on your profile so everyone can see that you've liked it. Also bear in mind that updates from any page you've liked will appear in your feed, and it can become cluttered.

20 ways to control facebook privacy

CUSTOM SETTINGS: Use custom settings to apply different privacy levels to each kind of information stored in your profile.

18. Your wall

You have little control over who can write on your wall. You can choose your friends or set it to no one. Go to 'Account | Privacy settings | Customise settings'. Scroll down to 'Things others share' and tick or clear the box marked 'Friends can post on my wall'. You can change who can see postings on your wall just below this setting.

19. Comments

If you want to limit who can comment on other people's wall postings or your status updates, go to 'Customise settings' under 'Privacy settings' and then scroll down to 'Can comment on posts' under 'Things others share'. You can set this to 'Friends only' or choose 'Customise' to allow or exclude specific people or groups.

20. Picture tagging

You can't prevent people from uploading and tagging pictures of you, but you can control who gets to see them once they're tagged. In the 'Things others share' section of 'Customise settings', select 'Custom' next to 'Photos and videos I'm tagged in'. Choose 'Specific people' next to 'Make this visible to' and set people or lists who you want to allow to see tagged images. Next to 'Hide this from', enter the names or lists that you want blocked from seeing your tagged photos.

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First published in PC Plus Issue 304

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