What Private Facebook Information Your Friends Can Publish

April 28, 2010

Just because you've set your Facebook profile to "Friends only" access doesn't mean someone who is not your friend can't see it. One of the most confusing aspects of Facebook's privacy settings is an area where you specify what information your friends can share about you through applications and web sites, even parts of your profile you made private.

By default, regardless of how private your Facebook profile is, your friends can share the following pieces of information about you, straight from the screenshot on the right: Personal Info (activities, interests, etc), Status updates, Online presence, Website, Family and relationship status, Education and work, My videos, My links, My notes, My photos, Photos and videos I'm tagged in, About me, My birthday, and My hometown.

This whole friends-can-share-private-things by default can lead to some awkward situations, like one I ran into last week.

I'm Facebook friends with my teenage nephew, who is friends with another teenage pal who I am not friends with. This pal has his status updates set to "Friends only" access, which means I can't see them. But, he hasn't changed his default "what friends can share about you" settings. So, my nephew "liked" one of his pal's status updates, and it showed up in my newsfeed, since my nephew and I are friends. I clicked on the status update, and by virtue of the like, I could see the status and the 50-comment conversation that followed between a handful of teens whose profiles are set to "Friends only" and who I am not friends with. Essentially I could see private posts that were never meant for me to see--I'm pretty sure my nephew would be embarrassed if he knew I'd read some of his comments directed at his friends. I felt like the invisible adult who'd stumbled into a middle school locker room conversation that clearly wasn't meant for anyone to hear but these teens.

The lesson? If you're using Facebook as a private place to just talk to friends, in addition to setting your profile parts to "Friends only", make sure you also hit up the what friends can share about me panel (under Privacy Settings > Applications and Websites > What your friends can share about you). This way, if you're a 14-year-old who is friends with your old aunt, she won't get to see comment threads that might embarrass you. (The sad truth is that most teenagers aren't spending the time to update their privacy settings, so things like this are just going to keep happening.)

For more details on the changes to what Facebook (and your Facebook friends) can share about you in light of Facebook's recent changes, check out my piece at Fast Company last week, Time to Audit Your Facebook Privacy Settings, Here's How.

I can across this site in one of the may posts I read yesterday. http://zesty.ca/facebook/

“What does Facebook publish about you and your friends? Any information you see below is visible to anyone on the Internet through normal use of the Facebook Graph API. Facebook apps used by you or your friends might see more.”

Good tool to have…

digideth [+6]
Apr 28 10 at 11:30 am

I’m not concerned with privacy implications, since I treat FB updates like a conversation at a party (semi-private setting), but I would really like them to simplify and consolidate the privacy settings section, if only because I’m tired of reading about it :)

Unrelated note, I think tech journalists don’t understand Facebook in the same way most non-media people don’t understand Twitter. I think the main difference is that most people, unlike journalists, don’t particularily enjoy talking to strangers.

Pies [+5]
Apr 28 10 at 12:46 pm

While I agree that it’s important to double-check privacy settings, I think this particular case might be a misundertanding. Are you sure your friend’s nephew has his status updates set to friends only? I ask because I don’t see how this particular setting would lead to the scenario you described. The sharing controls set whether applications can access certain types of information about you when your friends use them. But those controls do not override the permissions on individual pieces of content. In other words, if a status update is set to “Friends Only,” your friends may be able to see it via an application based on the setting described here, but their friends will not also be able to see it since it’s still “Friends Only.” Since you could view the status update via its permalink, I don’t think it was actually set to “Friends Only.”

May 4 10 at 3:55 am

I’m actually not sure if my nephew’s pal’s setting is “Friends only.” I could only assume, because I couldn’t figure out any other scenario where I can’t seen this pal’s status update, but when my nephew likes one, I can.

Gina Trapani [+195]
May 14 10 at 12:29 pm

It is true- this does happen when said FB user does indeed have all THEIR settings set to “friends only”, yet if any of said FB user’s particular friends do NOT have theirs set to “friends only”, said FB user’s comments on those particular friends’ posts WILL show up in said FB user’s newsfeed. I keep all my settings “friends only”, yet I have several friends who don’t…and whenever I comment on those friends’ posts, it DOES show up in my friends’ newsfeeds. I tested it by logging into my son’s account, and lo & behold, I saw my comments on several of MY friends’ status updates (people my son is NOT friends with)…because those friends have their settings more open. I find this to be a huge breach of privacy. I appreciate this article because it addresses this issue; however, the solution here doesn’t seem to work anymore, now that FB recently (as in the past couple of weeks…today is June 12) changed the privacy settings panel AGAIN. I was able to find the “what you friends share about you” panel, but I found that I had none of the boxes checked- in other words, judging by the settings I have set, this should not be happening–but it is. Do you have any suggestions for what to do now, now that the privacy panel has been changed yet again?

Jun 12 10 at 4:42 am

Comments are closed. Thanks for reading!