Facebook and privacy have had a rocky relationship, and the enormous number of settings can be overwhelming. Ultimately, there is one option that is the key to ensuring your posts only go to the right people, and that those people cannot share or otherwise send your content elsewhere.
How to Keep Your Status Updates and Photos Private
When you create a status update or post, you can click the little gear icon in the post window and select who that post should be shared with. You can share it with specific people, or with certain groups (e.g. friends, or custom groups you can create).
If you use a custom group, then nobody other than people in that group will see the post. Any comments they make will only be visible to people permitted to see the post. Furthermore, they won’t be able to share it.
The Exceptions: Friends and Tags
This is not the case if you share with “Friends.” Friends will be able to share with other friends or the general public.
Furthermore, anyone you tag in a photo or mention in a post can see that post. This, I suppose, prevents slander.
Setting Your Defaults
You can edit your default post privacy settings in your account security settings. As with individual posts, if you create a custom setting, you will disable sharing on all your posts, thus keeping the conversation private.
Hiding the Past
If you want to make all your past posts private, you can go to your privacy settings and click the “Manage Past Post Visibility” link. Set it to a custom privacy setting, and sharing, etc. will be disabled on those posts. The exception is that if they’re already shared, those shares will stick around. New sharing will not be permitted.
The Big Fat Gotchas
There are two ways that this can be totally bypassed:
Gotcha 1: Applications
Facebook supports applications. These can be cool games, tools to share birthdays, or commenting boards on other sites. These application can request access to a wide range of data, including but not limited to access to all your private posts. They can also ask for your friends’ information, and by extension, your friends can share you otherwise private posts.
If you want to clamp down on this, take a look at your app settings and delete the apps you don’t want to see.
Gotcha 2: Human Nature
People can always copy & paste or otherwise summarize what you posted. As the saying goes, two people can’t keep a secret unless one of them is dead. If you really want something to stay between you and your close friends, make sure you ask them to do so.
So, What to Do
Ultimately, Facebook is a public forum. What’s on Facebook is public, and at best, you get pretty okay privacy. You can stand in the corner and whisper, but everyone in that conversation is, effectively, taking notes, whether they want to or not. Once you throw applications into the mix, there’s every chance that some of those notes will be sent to third parties who will, in most every case, abide by Facebook’s stringent policies on maintaining data privacy.
I, personally, embrace the publicness of Facebook. There’s much to be gained by sharing openly, and I’ve seen personal benefit from doing so. But when I want a private conversation, I take it offline, and trust in the discretion of my friends to keep these private talks private.