Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Prevent Facebook from automatically importing photos

A new Facebook feature lets you sync photos with iPhones, Androids, and iPads automatically via Wi-Fi or the cell network, but if you inadvertently opt in to the service or do so and later change your mind, it's easy to opt out of automatic Facebook photo syncs.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
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.
Dennis O'Reilly
4 min read

A few weeks ago, Facebook introduced the ability to sync photos taken on your iPhones, iPads, and Android phones to your Facebook account automatically. Jason Cipriani describes how to enable the feature in "Getting started with Facebook photo sync on Android, iPhone."

Your smartphone or tablet might prompt you to activate the service, which uploads via Wi-Fi or the cell network the most recent 20 photos taken with the device and all subsequent photos it takes. As Jason explains, the photos are stored in a private folder and aren't posted to your Facebook Timeline until you post them manually.

Also, Facebook promises not to use too much bandwidth or horsepower, allowing you to disable uploads via the cell network to avoid data charges, for example. Graham Cluley's post from earlier this month on Sophos's Naked Security blog explains how Facebook's photo-sync feature works.

As you can imagine, having all the photos taken by your phone or tablet uploaded to Facebook imperils your privacy and security. As MercuryNews.com's Brandon Bailey reported earlier this month, Facebook claims it will not use the data associated with the photos until they are posted.

However, all the data associated with the photos, including where and when they were taken, is still accessible to Facebook and can be used to determine the ads you see. Privacy advocates have pointed out that Facebook users are much more likely to post photos that are already uploaded, often inadvertently.

Facebook's automatic photo syncing is not activated by default, but you may have enabled the feature without realizing you were doing so. Last week I was contacted by a reader who had done just that: somehow his iPhone photos were being uploaded to his Facebook account. He didn't remember activating the option and couldn't figure out how to disable it.

Facebook iPhone app Photo Sync settings
Change the Facebook app's Photo Sync settings to "Don't sync my photos" to prevent Facebook from automatically uploading all the photos you take with your iPhone. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Even if you knowingly signed up for Facebook's photo syncs and are now having second thoughts, you'll be glad to learn that disabling Facebook's automatic photo uploads from your iPhone, iPad, or Android device takes only a couple of seconds.

The Facebook Help Center provides step-by-step instructions for disabling Photo Sync on Android phones, iPhones, and iPads from within the Facebook app itself. Here's the nutshell version:

Android: Press the main menu in the top-left corner and choose Account > App Settings > Sync Photos > Don't sync my photos.

iPhone and iPad: From the Timeline, press Photos > Sync, then the gear icon in the top-right corner, and finally Turn off Photo Sync (this step may not be necessary) > Don't sync my photos > Done.

You can also disable Facebook photo and video sharing via the iPhone's Settings app: open Settings, choose Privacy > Photos, and toggle the Facebook setting to Off. Now when you press Photo in the Facebook app you'll be prompted to re-enable photo and video sharing by changing the iPhone privacy setting back to On.

In a post from last September, Jason Cipriani described Facebook's tighter integration with iOS 6.

A quick look at the new Facebook privacy options
More of Facebook's growing pains were exhibited by founding sister Randi Zuckerberg's plea for "human decency" after one of her private photos was made public via a tweet by the sister of one of Ms. Zuckerberg's friends. CNET's Chris Matyszczyk reports on the flap in yesterday's post on the Technically Incorrect blog.

Ask permission before sharing? Isn't that contrary to Facebook's very nature? It makes more sense to require your explicit permission before anyone would be able to share anything you have designated as private.

What's needed is a way for Facebook users to post items with a restriction that says "This is for you to see, not to share." Unfortunately, no such option is included in the latest iteration of the ever-changing Facebook privacy settings.

Much was made of Facebook's recent revamp of its security settings. The only constant is that the current Facebook privacy settings are as difficult to make sense of as their predecessors.

A lock icon now appears in the upper-right corner of the main Facebook screen. Click it to view shortcuts to three privacy settings: "Who can see my stuff?", "Who can contact me?", and "How do I stop someone from bothering me?" Below these shortcuts is a link to the Privacy Settings page, which you can also access by clicking the gear icon next to the lock icon and choosing Privacy Settings.

Apart from a few interface changes, the Facebook privacy options haven't changed much since I described them in a post from last July, "Five-minute Facebook security checkup."

Click Timeline and Tagging in the left pane to view options for limiting access to your Timeline and controlling who views posts you're tagged in. All of your options are limited, however. For example, click Edit next to "Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your Timeline?" to enable Timeline Review, which requires your manual approval of each post you're tagged in. The setting affects only your Timeline, not everyone else's.

Facebook Timeline and Tagging options
You can require your explicit approval before posts friends tag you in appear on your Timeline, but not before the posts appear elsewhere. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Likewise, you can review tags friends add to your posts before they appear by clicking Edit next to that option in the tagging section of the page. The other two tagging options let you limit who else sees the posts you're tagged in, and who sees tag suggestions generated by Facebook's facial-recognition feature.