Change your Facebook privacy settings with a click

The free MyFacePrivacy app gives you four one-click options for setting the Facebook privacy level you're comfortable with. It also provides a straightforward interface for customizing your Facebook privacy options.

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If you're a Facebook user who has never bothered to change the service's default privacy settings, you're not alone. In May 2012, Lance Whitney reported on a Consumer Reports study that found millions of Facebook users don't use, or aren't even aware of, the service's privacy controls.

The Facebook interface certainly doesn't make it easy to adjust your privacy settings. As I explained in last September's post on how to secure your Facebook account in six easy steps, the social network has 40 individual privacy settings listed in four separate categories.

Israeli developer CallingID offers the free MyFacePrivacy program that lets you select one of four prefabricated Facebook privacy profiles and have the settings applied to your account automatically.

The obvious downside of using a program such as MyFacePrivacy is that you have to share your Facebook account information with yet another third party. At least this time you do so voluntarily, but using the program requires that you trust CallingID with your personal information.

The company's privacy policy states that CallingID collects only "minimal personal information required to service your requests." There's no mention of the firm accessing or using your friends list or other private Facebook data. In fact, there's no mention of "Facebook" in the CallingID privacy policy at all.

Still, using the program requires that you provide it with your Facebook ID and password, and that you permit it to access your account settings. Other than encountering a 404 error when I tried to access the CallingID About Us page, I found no reason to distrust the company. I wouldn't blame you for erring on the side of caution, however.

Opt out of Multi Search during installation
After you agree to the MyFacePrivacy license agreement and privacy policy, the program's installer tries to change your default search provider and home page. Such preselected "offers" are usually enough for me to give the offending program the boot.

On the other hand, Adobe continues to preselect the option to download the McAfee Security Scan Plus malware scanner when you update Adobe's Flash player. Yet I uncheck the offer and proceed with the update. I understand having to make a buck off "free" products, but there's gotta be a better way than preselected drive-by downloads.

In this case, I unchecked the two options and continued with the installation, willing to give CallingID the benefit of the doubt.

MyFacePrivacy installer preselected options to change your default search service and home page
Beware of the preselected options to change your default search service and home page in MyFacePrivacy installer (shown here after I unchecked the options). Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

The installer then asks whether you're setting the options for your personal account or for a child's account. Once the program is installed, you're prompted to enter your Facebook ID and password. After it logs you into the account, you're asked to choose one of four preconfigured privacy profiles: Maximum, Recommended, Minimal, and Unrestricted.

MyFacePrivacy preselected Facebook privacy settings
MyFacePrivacy prompts you to choose one of four preset privacy levels, or click Advanced to view more Facebook privacy options. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

To customize your Facebook privacy settings, click the Advanced button in the bottom-right corner of the window to open a tabbed dialog box containing all the Facebook privacy options.

I recommend two changes to the default settings under the Privacy tab. First, under "Who can look you up using the email address you provided," choose "Friends of Friends" rather than the default setting of "Friends." Second, under "Who can send you messages," change "Public" to "Friends."

MyFacePrivacy's privacy-settings dialog box
MyFacePrivacy's default settings let only friends search for you by e-mail address and allow anyone to send you a message; set the first to 'Friends of Friends,' and the second to 'Friends.' Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Alternatively, click the Manage Settings button in the bottom-left corner of the dialog box to open a window that presents four custom privacy levels: share with close friends only, share with all friends, share posts with everyone but protect my identity, and share everything with everyone.

MyFacePrivacy's Manage Settings options
Choose one of four preset privacy levels via the Manage Settings button at the bottom of the MyFacePrivacy options dialog box. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

On the Personal Info tab are about two dozen drop-down menus for selecting the audience for particular information, such as hometown, current town, college, birthday, and e-mail address. You can restrict access to your other contact information via the drop-downs, but before you do so, ask yourself whether you need to share your address and telephone number with Facebook at all.

MyFacePrivacy Personal Info settings
MyFacePrivacy lets you select the Facebook audience for your personal information in via a single dialog box. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

When you apply the MyFacePrivacy settings, the program pops up a warning about the changes, and then signs into your Facebook account and makes the necessary adjustments to its settings. The update process can take several minutes to complete; a couple of the updates I made during testing ran longer than five minutes.

When the update finishes, MyFacePrivacy pops up a confirmation. Click OK to close the program and "Add new user" to make changes to another Facebook account. I used only a single account to test the program; I don't know how it will perform with multiple accounts registered.

For me and many other people, Facebook's default privacy settings share too much personal information with the public. MyFacePrivacy makes it much simpler to tighten up the service's privacy options. The only caveat is that using the program requires that you share some personal information with a third party. If that's a risk you're willing to take, MyFacePrivacy lets you protect your private Facebook info with a lot fewer clicks.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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