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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.