Facebook privacy: 3 Degrees of Separation


Even Facebook knows the term “Friend” is relative–and that relatives may not be friends. That’s why the network, which in its IPO prospectus says it has more than 800 million active users, is in discussions with companies in a little-known corner of analytics called social network analysis (SNA). The goal: to track, quantify and monetize the true “friend” groups, the Influencers and those they influence, in this global community of you and hundreds of millions of your closest Friends.

Facebook has become sort of the anti-email, the best way to quickly reach the most important people in our lives with written, visual and audio communications. It can also be the ultimate global fishbowl. So privacy matters.

“Privacy”? Not from Facebook Advertisers

Many of us have long since shared the news that when it comes to privacy from advertisers, there is no such thing as “privacy” on Facebook. The network shares our data with advertisers, whose ad spending collectively comprises much of Facebook’s multibillion-dollar market valuation–what the principal characters were fighting over in the movie The Social Network.

To be fair, and in case any reader is still unaware: as I wrote in 2010, in this regard there is little or no difference between Facebook and most other social networks today. Oh, a scant few charge for the the privilege of joining their networks: for example, Biznik announced today it has “retired” free accounts, and is now charging $79 and up for annual memberships. Also, many social networks, including Facebook and LinkedIN, operate on the so-called ‘freemium’ model: most of us ride for free, with premium/enhanced services available for a fee. Yet the main reason we can enjoy a free social ride is that advertisers are paying the freight: paying for the servers and data centers, developers, social media strategists, sales team and all other human and computing resources it takes to confidently tell the world, “Join our social network.”  In essence, we are the product the social network sells to advertisers: we trade our privacy for a ticket to ride.

Privacy We Can Control

The Serenity Prayer expresses it best: “God*, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” The main point of this post is privacy we can control. Facebook lets you set defaults for pretty much every form of interaction available on the network, and those are important, but they are also one-size-fits-all settings that probably don’t apply to every Friend. Conversely, Facebook lets you customize privacy settings Friend-by-Friend, but that feels too much like work and raises the question of just how individualized “social security” (!) truly needs to be.

So let’s talk about three quick and easy ways to do privacy your way by controlling your interactions with others on Facebook.

Add Them to a List.

By virtue of demographic and behavioral characteristics including location, education, employment, interests, activities and more, Facebook has already created Lists for you. Yet for most of us, our privacy comfort levels are more like the rings of a tree: the innermost trusted circle, the next ring outward and so forth. Here’s a quick and easy system to make this concept ring true (pun intended) in your Facebook Friends-and-family tree. Follow the steps below just one time, and from this day forward it’s a one-click (or zero-click) operation:

  1. At top right corner of your home page, click Home. On left side, if you don’t already see Lists, click MORE.
  2. Mouse over LISTS and to right of it see MORE. Click MORE and see all Lists Facebook has already created for you based on your Friends.
  3. Click [+Create List], name the List and type the names of those you want to add to it.
  4. Next time you post anything to your Wall, click the pulldown menu to the left of [Post] and choose Custom. In the pulldown menu, again choose Custom.
  5. In the window, see “Make this visible to” and choose Friends (which I believe is the default).
  6. In the same window, see “Hide this from” and type the name of the list you just created.

Now, unless you change it, this will be your default posting setting, similar to choosing the default search engine in your browser. Of course, you can change recipients with each and every Wall post–or never change it again.


  • Those you’ve restricted from seeing your own Wall posts can still see (and chime in on) your Wall posts with any mutual Friend.
  • When you use an external app such as Foursquare that posts to Facebook, you can’t filter who sees your 4SQ posts either when you post or after the fact. What you must do beforehand is go into your App Settings, find “Who can see posts and activity from this app on Facebook?” and set it so certain people or a List can’t see them. Then from now on when you post from that app it will be invisible to those you have filtered.

To briefly accentuate the positive, it should also be obvious how useful the List function can be not just to restrict certain people from seeing things but for quickly communicating with large but carefully selected groups of Friends. Just use the “Make this visible to” function to choose one or more lists as the only ones who can see a certain Wall post.

Un-Friend Them.

Another option is to un-Friend people. The network won’t notify them. If they specifically look for you in their Friend list or themselves in your Friend list, they can figure it out, but that’s what it will take.

FLAW: your Friend was probably already Subscribed to your posts, and even if you un-Friend them they still get your Feed (everything you post). You can’t “unsubscribe” them, they must do that themselves.

The reason this feature works as it does is that Facebook, as reflected in its evolution to Timeline, is trying to become more of a ‘megaphone’ branding/positioning venue. People love their Twitter followers and now they can have Facebook followers, too.

Block Them.

If you truly want to shut off someone’s access to your Facebook life, the network’s Blocking function is the only way to go. Blocking un-Friends them, and again, the network doesn’t notify them, but it also ushers in a variety of other privacy benefits:

  1. Cuts any ties you currently have with them, such as Friendship connections and details.
  2. Makes your profile (Timeline) invisible to them, and you will not appear in their search results or Friend lists.
  3. Blocking is mutual, so they also become invisible to you.
  4. Even if you post something on the Wall of a mutual Friend, the blocked person cannot see it.

I hope this quick privacy primer enhances your Facebook experience, and if you’ve found other effective strategies, please share them in Comments below.

* Or Mark Zuckerberg

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