April 24, 2010

How to Use Facebook and Still Be Completely Private

Filed under: blog — Tags: , , — tsladmin @ 12:28 pm

I’m one of the many people who doesn’t like some of the recent changes to Facebook’s default privacy settings, and I agree completely with Anil Dash that if those defaults aren’t good enough for Mark Zuckerberg, then maybe they should be changed.
However, I think I’ve discovered a way to participate on Facebook with my friends and still be completely hidden from the web, even more so than in the past, but I need your help to figure out what’s going on.

my public Facebook profile has disappeared

A couple of days ago, by pure chance I noticed that the public version of my Facebook profile had disappeared from Google’s search results completely. If you’d searched for me in the past, you would have gotten a link to my public profile, which displayed my name, picture, friends list, some groups I belong to, and (I think) some pages I’ve fanned.
After this week’s changes to Facebook’s defaults, however, that profile no longer comes up at all in a search on Google or Bing. In fact, if you’re not logged in to Facebook and you click on a link to my profile with my personal URL (which I assure you does still exist), you’ll get a “page not found” error.
I’ve confirmed this with others, even people who I’m friends with on Facebook. If you’re logged out, there’s no way to get to my profile. My theory is that one of two things is causing this to happen.

  1. I’ve always been wary of providing Facebook with too much information, so I never filled out any interests.
  2. A couple of days ago, I went to Facebook to read my feed and got a popup window asking me to link my profile to one of the pages for my high school, college, graduate school, and my city network. I didn’t want to do that, so I clicked on the “ask me later” button, which should mean I’m not part of any networks right now.

I’m sure Facebook thinks it’s punishing me for not participating in its new advertising system, but this is a pretty sweet spot for me to be in because my Facebook account is one of the very few that I truly keep private and where I’m only adding “friends” now (as opposed to anyone who friends me). I get to participate with my friends the way I always have and don’t have to deal with all of the new “like” crud and privacy issues. And I think any true friends can still find me, as I believe that anyone logged in to Facebook can still find my profile. In fact, I think I’m still showing up on other peoples’ “recommendations” sidebar, because I’m still getting friend requests from people I don’t really know.
This is great, and I’m very happy with this setup, inadvertent as I think Facebook meant it to be. I’m also not willing to change it to test what’s causing it, so this is where I need your help. I don’t want to add any interests or link my profile to a network in order to find out if that changes anything, because I may not be able to undo the change. So I’m asking for your help in answering the following questions so that we can all figure out what’s going on. Hopefully those of us who want to be private on Facebook can truly do that now. It would also be helpful to have this information so that we know if/when Facebook figures this out and changes it.
Please leave answers in the comments, and thanks for your help!

  1. If you’re logged out of Facebook, can you see my profile? http://facebook.com/shifted
  2. If you’re logged in to Facebook, can you see my profile?
  3. If you’re not friends with me in Facebook and you can see my profile, what do you see? Please be specific in listing which pieces (eg, name, picture, groups, etc.)
  4. Does your public profile display in search results?
  5. If your public profile displays, either when others click on it or in search results, do you have interests listed in your profile?
  6. Can you completely remove your interests from your profile?
  7. Have you seen the popup window asking you to link your profile to specific pages/networks?
  8. If your public profile displays, is your profile linked to any of these pages/networks?
  9. Can you remove your profile from being linked to any of these pages/networks?
  10. If you go through these steps of removing interests and links to pages/networks, does that remove your public profile altogether, the way it did mine?
  11. I’ve also unchecked the box to allow personalization in my privacy settings. If your public profile isn’t displaying, have you done that?

Addendum: I think Polly found the actual answer (noted in the comments below). There’s a setting in the privacy –> search settings that may finally remove your profile completely from public view.

"public search" setting in Facebook

Make sure you uncheck the “allow” box, and if you want even more privacy, change the “Facebook search results” setting to “friends only.” I should also note that I know for a fact this setting either wasn’t there or wasn’t working properly last month, as I had a debate with someone about privacy and looked at my public profile while not logged in, so something definitely changed recently to allow for this level of privacy. What I’m unsure of now is whether that “allow” box is checked by default or not (question #12?). I have to say that if that box is not checked by default, I’m pretty impressed with Facebook’s new stance.
And as Phil noted in his comment, make sure you change the pri­vacy –> pro­file infor­ma­tion set­tings to man­age what your friends can share about you. That’s a really impor­tant one.
The big deal: It looks like Facebook has indeed changed its stance on privacy and has defaulted the “allow” in the search settings to opt-in, rather than opt-out. I think this is new, and it’s very welcome in my opinion, especially since you can further narrow the “Facebook search results” setting. Has anyone seen that “allow” box checked by default?
If this is true, profiles have disappeared from Google, right? Is this a preemptive move on Facebook’s part to take over people search from Google? I don’t know, but it seems like something has changed.


  1. 1. no
    2. yes
    3. I saw gender, city, website link, facebook profile link, 5 “pages”; on the left only city, and a profile pic.
    4. not my own, but many with a similar name (very common first and family names)
    5. n/a
    6. I didn’t see these anywhere; maybe I’ve never made any.
    7. may have seen one once
    8-10. n/a
    11. I only just made that change now that you’ve pointed it out. It was checked when I searched #4, and I still don’t find myself on google, yahoo, or kngine now.

    Comment by Jennifer — April 24, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

  2. Like you and many others, I’m finding these most recent changes perplexing. So I’ve just been locking down everything I can find to lock down.
    Answers to a few of your questions:
    1. No, logged out, can’t see your profile.
    2. Logged in, yes I can see it.
    3. Pleased to call you a friend. 🙂
    4. My public profile doesn’t show in google or public facebook search results. I opted out of having a public profile: Privacy Settings –> Search. Only public to users logged in to facebook.
    6. I deleted my interests, they did seem to go away.
    7. Can’t remember!
    9. I don’t appear to be linked to any pages or groups that I didn’t explicitly opt in to.

    Comment by pollyalida — April 24, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

  3. 1. Logged out – can’t see
    2. Logged in – can see your page
    3. I’m not your FB friend and what I can see is: profile picture, mutual friends, notes, “basic information” (Female/chicago), Contact information (URLs to web site and fb profile), and Pages (pages you’ve “fanned”)
    4. Yes my public profile shows
    5 and 6. I’ve removed all interests from my profiles so there is nothing to display. I didn’t think the greater world needed to know any of that. Of course now none of my friends know I’m interested in Lost and Grey’s Anatomy, but I think they can live without that info. 🙂
    7. Yes I saw it and I pretended to add some but then opted out.
    8-10. I didn’t link to them to begin with, so I don’t know what would happen if I had but then removed.
    11. I’ve unchecked this box too and my public profile still displays.

    Comment by JennieD — April 24, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

  4. 1.Logged in I can see your profile. No, I’m not a friend.
    2.Logged out, I can’t see your profile.
    3.I can see minimal infomation; gender, location, contact information, facebook profile URL, your “pages”, mutual friends (we have 1) and your “notes”. You might want to change the privacy settings for your notes; it’s the only personal thing I can really see. The only picture I can see is your profile pic.
    4. I do not see my own profile in a Google search.
    I think I have declined to do anything whenever a pop up box appeared.
    Not sure about the rest, but when I went to uncheck the personalization box it already wasn’t checked.

    Comment by Helene — April 24, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

  5. 1. Lazy, don’t want to log out and back in, so leaving this to someone else.
    2. Logged in, yes, I can see it.
    3. Not friended, can see: Name; Basic information: Sex, Current City; Contact information: Website, Facebook Profile, Pages: (can look at 55 pages)
    4. My profile does not appear to show up in a Google search.
    5-6. I deleted my interests a few privacy invasions back, and they do not show in my profile.
    7-8. I didn’t give Facebook my “real” e-mail address, so it’s not sure where to try to connect. I haven’t seen the popup on Facebook. I have read the information pages on Pandora, which apparently will offer me the opportunity to link to FB next time I open my stations.
    9. Pandora’s information pages are easy to find and give clear instructions on how to unlink.
    10. Apparently so, even if the removal was several changes to FB ago.
    11. No, but I’ll go look for it now.

    Comment by Teaspoon — April 24, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

  6. 1. No, logged out, I don’t see it–says page cannot be found.
    2. Logged in, yes, I see it.
    3. I am your FB friend. 🙂
    4. and 5. My public profile displays in a very limited manner for a Google Search—it shows the pic, a sampling of my interests, fan pages, etc. but does not show anything that I consider to be terribly personal. People have the option to submit a friend request.
    6. Hmmm…if I go to FB Search Results, I don’t see the options to control what shows up in the public search. There basically is just a box to check or uncheck (allow) that says “Public Search Results
    Create a public search listing so others can see a preview of your Facebook profile on search engines (see preview).” I know I can limit that info, though, for people who may search for me within Facebook.
    7. I don’t think so, but I can’t remember, either!
    9. I don’t seem to be linked to anything I didn’t opt in to.

    Comment by Buffy Hamilton — April 24, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

  7. Hey Jenny,
    Logged in I can see: Your avatar, current location, mutual friends, notes, gender, current location (for the second time), website, Fb profile location, links to your 55 pages. Photos – 1 profile pic. Boxes – blank.Notes – lotsa notes!
    I’d be inclined to block friends information as well – it’s something I suggest, because it’s easy for people to add your friends, they may not be as careful as you, and if I then try and add you as a friend, you may be more inclined to friend if we have them in common.

    Comment by Phil Bradley — April 24, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  8. 1. No
    2. Yes
    3. Name, profile pic, Sex, Current City, website, Facebook URL, your list of Pages (all 54), your Notes (all 31), our mutual friends, and three “Notes about Jenny” in which you were tagged by people who are not my FB friends.
    4. Apparently not.
    5. NA
    6. Yes, so far.
    7. Yes (declined)
    8. NA
    9. NA
    10. NA (I think maybe it did already)
    11. Yes
    Hope this helps!

    Comment by SarahT — April 24, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

  9. Thanks for the help, everyone. I think Polly might have hit on the actual cause in the “search” settings in the privacy section. I could swear that in the past, I’ve checked that box and my public profile still displayed, but perhaps last week’s changes affected this so that public profiles truly are gone if that box isn’t checked.
    I’ll add an addendum to the post, but this is likely the way to remove your public listing. The “Facebook search results” setting allows you to make your profile visible only to friends, which is even better for those who want as much privacy as possible. And as Phil pointed out, make sure you change the privacy –> profile information settings to manage what your friends can share about you. That’s a really important one.

    Comment by jenny — April 24, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

  10. 1. I can’t see your ‘public’ profile while I’m logged out of Facebook. I can’t see my ‘public’ profile when I’m logged out either. (This does not upset me.)
    2. I can still see your public profile when I’m logged in to Facebook.
    3. We are friends. 🙂
    4. (see #1) I did show up in Facebook groups where I have posted. Here’s an example:
    5. I do have interests listed in my profile, but my public profile no longer displays when I am logged out.
    6. I believe the answer is ‘yes’, you may remove interests.
    I removed a musician from my interests. Doing so also removed me as a fan on her page. I returned to the musician’s fan page and ‘like’d it and she once again appeared on my profile.
    To further experiment, I made up band names to list in my interests. If Facebook did not find a page related to the text I typed, it added nothing to my profile. It was as if I hadn’t entered text at all. So it appears you can’t add an interest which does not have a related page. I’m wondering … if I had interests listed before the recent Facebook changes which currently have no related pages, will these be remembered and will they suddenly reappear once there are pages to link to?
    7. Yes, I did get the pop-up window. I OK’d my networks (colleges) and chose to edit the rest later.
    8. 9. 10. – – –
    11. Yes, I opted out of ‘instant personalization’. I did not block any additional apps. Since I had already severely limited what information friends may share via apps, I saw no reason to block the Yelp, etc. apps. I haven’t yet been to Yelp (as site I use) to see how its new relationship with Facebook works.

    Comment by Deanna — April 24, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

  11. Hmm. Just took another look at my settings
    Privacy Settings –> Search
    and I see I have not allowed a public search for my Facebook profile. Wish I could tell you I remembered checking or unchecking that box, but I don’t.
    Do you know… can we assume anything we post to a Group may display in search engines if the Group’s privacy type is set to public?

    Comment by Deanna — April 24, 2010 @ 6:44 pm

  12. Thanks, Deanna – that’s really interesting that you’re unable to add an interest that doesn’t have an existing page. Another lock-in.
    I don’t know if something we post to a public group becomes public, even with our profiles set to private. I’ll have to find something I can do a post to as a test. Please let us know if you have an answer to this before we do!

    Comment by jenny — April 24, 2010 @ 7:01 pm

  13. I have seen my comments on public pages show up in Google. So not everything is private, despite best efforts.

    Comment by pollyalida — April 24, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

  14. Polly, do your comments link to your profile or do they just display your name and picture?

    Comment by jenny — April 24, 2010 @ 7:30 pm

  15. No links back to profile, at least not when I’m logged out of FB. Shows comment, name and pic. I need to remember that! Public pages are indeed public, slaps head.

    Comment by pollyalida — April 24, 2010 @ 7:38 pm

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  17. […] How to Use Facebook and Still Be Completely Private Published: April 24, 2010 Source: The Shifted Librarian I’m one of the many people who doesn’t like some of the recent changes to Facebook’s default privacy settings, and I agree completely with Anil Dash that if those defaults aren’t good enough for Mark Zu… […]

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  18. Even if you block your account from being searched, the following information is still not private: friends lists, liked pages, interests, and city. You will be publicly displayed as a fan on any pages and any interest pages (so-called Facebook Community Pages) unless you explicitly delete all of your interests/connections/etc. If you are logged into Facebook and visit a site like CNN.com, it will be able to access your friends list to personalize your experience. You will also see who amongst your friends “likes” certain things on the web when you are logged in.

    Comment by Melissa — April 28, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

  19. Thanks, Melissa. At the time I wrote this, I didn’t have any likes or interests, although as I posted on Flickr this morning, Facebook has [un]helpfully started filling some in for me. I’m okay with city being listed (I list my work city, not where I live), but if I wasn’t, I’d be fine not listing it.
    As for friends lists, my understanding is that if you turn off the new personalization features, these sites can’t use your friends lists. Do you know if that’s true?

    Comment by jenny — April 29, 2010 @ 9:52 pm

  20. I’ve turned off the personalization option, but I still see friends’ content on sites like CNN.

    Comment by pollyalida — April 29, 2010 @ 11:18 pm

  21. I keep seeing how your friends are available for viewing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with me – *if* you can find my profile I don’t have a listing of friends available. However, as usual with Facebook, things get complicated very quickly. If you turn off the ability for Yelp etc. to use your details that’s one thing. However, even if YOU opt out of sharing, if your friends don’t, the app can still use your content. The key paragraph is “Please keep in mind that if you opt out, your friends may still share public Facebook information about you to personalize their experience on these partner sites unless you block the application.”
    SO… what you then have to do is to go to each Facebook application in page (and no, of course you can’t do it all in one go, why would Faecesbook want to make it easy for you), and click the ‘Block application’ box on Yelp, Docs, and Pandora. And, I presume any other application that decides to buy into using these features, since Fbook likes the opt in approach, so you’re forced to opting out.
    It’s a fairly obvious point, but one that’s thrown me now and then, so probably has with other people – log out of Fbook! If I stay logged in, I stay logged in, irrespective of closing the tab/window, shutting down the browser, turning off the machine – I’m still logged in. Turn everything back on again, go to one of these sites, and it still knows who you are. Insidious or what?

    Comment by Phil Bradley — April 30, 2010 @ 4:35 am

  22. Thanks for the information on facebook and the change in privacy status. As an educator I have done my best to make sure that I remain nonexistant to nonfriends on facebook. It is a private entiity that should remain private for those who use it.

    Comment by Rich — May 12, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

  23. I can see you basic info: Chicago/ALA + websites. And your Notes, which seem to have stopped at the end of 2006. (“Five things…”)
    Although we’re not Friends, I have a pending Friend request. Maybe that gives me some access?
    You’re Boxes post was awesome, BTW. Thank you.

    Comment by Steve Thomas — May 19, 2010 @ 12:15 am

  24. I guess I’m in the minority here, but if you only want to be available to people you already know, why have a FB page at all? Isn’t FB’s raison d’etre to connect you with people you may NOT know but, because of shared interests, friends, job, activities, etc, you might actually WANT to meet?
    If you build a wall around yourself, don’t be surprised when nobody comes calling.

    Comment by Jeff Ingram — May 30, 2010 @ 3:29 pm

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