NOTE: as of today (31st January 2012), the below is only of concern if you’ve upgraded your personal Facebook profile to the new “Timeline” format. If you haven’t (or Facebook hasn’t yet done it for you, as it will do eventually), you need to come back and check your privacy is intact AFTER the change :)

Reading through today’s social media news, I came across an article just published on the Guardian’s website, asking “What if your Facebook Timeline was read instead of your CV?“. Not a huge concern to me personally, I tend not to post anything hugely personal and / or incriminating on Facebook, plus I was pretty sure I was on top of my privacy settings. But the mention of changes around the introduction of the Timeline format gave me a nagging doubt, so I thought i’d revisit my settings and just, y’know, double check.

Oh. Where’d my Privacy settings go?!

First of all, the way your privacy settings are organised within Facebook seems to have changed. They used to be all in one place, and relatively easy to see what was set to what – plus, there was a “view as stranger” link so you could double check what your profile actually looked like to someone outside of your friend network. I was in a hurry, admittedly, but I couldn’t find that now, and there are settings which go down into several levels of complexity under both “Account Settings” and “Privacy settings” – these are both to be found under the drop down arrow at the top right of your screen.

How to check what’s private on your Facebook profile

Not reassured at all so far, I decided to take the quick route. Because I have a couple of dummy accounts used for training, I can easily log into those, search for myself and see how much of my timeline was visible. That may not help others much, as Facebook makes you log in before you’re able to search for someone, so you either need to:

  • create a dummy account (strictly against Facebook regs but frankly they’re asking for it by making all this so tricky) – just set up a hotmail address and register using that, or
  • enlist a friend who you’re not connected to on Facebook to use their account to search for you.

If that “view as stranger” button IS still there somewhere, please do post directions to it in the comments!

Edit: Thanks to Ellie in the comments and Celia on Facebook, we’ve located the “View as” option. From your timeline screen, it’s under the cog icon on the top right, as per the image below – so no excuses now for not checking what your profile looks like to the rest of the world!

facebook privacy test

And here’s what’s NOT private…

In my case, EVERYTHING. Bear in mind, I work in social media, I am as aware of functionality changes as probably most people outside of Facebook itself. Plus, I know i’ve set everything to “friends only” in the past, and checked externally that it was working as it should be.

When my profile switched from the old format to the new Timeline, all of my previous (private) posts were published as fully public.

Which means, if the new Timeline has made everything I’ve posted in the last four or five years public, it very likely has made yours public too. You DO need to check, or at least go through the process below unless you don’t mind the entire Internet viewing your entire status history.

How to fix it

Using the drop down arrow at the top right of your screen, go to “Account > Privacy Settings”.

About half way down the screen there is an option “Limit the audience for past posts”.  When you click on “manage past post visibility” you’ll get a warning message come up, with a button “limit old posts“. That’s the baby you want.

Once i’d clicked that, viewing my profile from the dummy account gave me exactly the result I wanted – my basic details were still visible, but my status updates weren’t.

Spread the word

I’ve never joined in the general yelling about Facebook and privacy invasions, because personally I thought that the old settings were manageable and if you’re old enough to use the site, you’re old enough to take responsibility for your settings.

BUT. This time, it seems to me like a deliberate attempt by Facebook to get around my previous settings. When those updates they’d just published with my timeline were made, it was totally clear from my privacy settings that I only intended them to be shared with friends, not to be made public. Maybe there was something in the teeny print around swapping to the Timeline format which said “oh, by the way, we’re going to totally disregard your past privacy settings”, maybe not – but I have to say, Facebook – I’m not impressed! If you want to make sure your friends aren’t accidentally “exposing” themselves to the world, feel free to send them the link to this post!