How to Protect Yourself from Facebook's Open Graph


Don’t kid yourself – Facebook cares very much about your data! They care about how much they can get their hands on, how easily they can index it, and then how much easier it becomes for them to target ads based on information you have on your profile and apps you use.

In fact, the defaults for Facebook’s privacy settings completely expose your profile not only to everyone on Facebook, but to the entire public including non-Facebook users. Meaning your current and potential employers, people you like and have pissed off, your parents – everyone – can see your Facebook profile. For a visual representation of Facebook’s expanding public defaults, click here.

Those pictures of you drinking and smoking weed on the weekend? Those pictures of you in your slutty Halloween costume? The status updates about how you’re looking for a new job? All public, all the time unless you change your privacy settings.

Not only that, but Facebook’s new, and much maligned, “Open Graph” program, which is basically a 20x worse version of the failed Beacon, will invade your privacy in ways you never thought possible. Here I’m going to help you put an end (somewhat) to Facebook’s over-the-top campaign to make all of your data public and available to advertisers. The addition of “Connections,” which I opted out of, is also generating some harsh feedback from users.

1) Open up your privacy settings control panel by clicking Account > Privacy Settings. That will bring you to this screen:

2) Click Profile Information and be sure that everything is set to “Only friends

3) Click Back to Privacy and then click Contact Information. Adjust accordingly according to your wishes.

4) Click Back to Privacy and then click Applications and Websites. This is one of the most critical sections of the site for protecting your privacy and data from websites/companies that you don’t want to allow access to! First, click the Edit Settings button beside What your friends can share about you. The default settings allow your friends to unknowingly share everything about you – fix this!

5) Click Save Changes at the bottom, then click Applications and websites at the top to go back to the previous page. Edit the setting for Activity on applications and games dashboards to your desired setting (mine is Only friends), and then click Edit setting beside Instant Personalization. Unclick “Allow,” then hit “Confirm” on the box that comes up.

6) Click Applications and websites at the top again, then click Back to privacy to bring you back to the main control panel. Now click Search. This is another really important tool because the default settings let people find your Facebook profile using search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Change your settings to what you’re comfortable with for Facebook search results and uncheck the box beside Public search results.

7) Click Back to privacy, and you’re done! Not that it was easy by any means.

Facebook suffers from a very poor user experience when it comes to managing your privacy, and my opinion is that it’s on purpose. They make money by giving advertisers access to your data they deem public; a ridiculous list that includes your interests (books, movies, music, etc.), list of your friends, etc. How Facebook can deem that type of information public is beyond me, but that’s their policy.

There are actually two other things you can do.

  1. Don’t “Like” news stories and blog posts using Facebook’s “Like” button with the thumbs-up on it.
  2. If you normally click the “Keep me logged in” checkbox on the login screen so that you don’t have to login every time you head to the site, discontinue this. Facebook can’t automatically share your information with other sites if you’re not logged into Facebook when you’re visiting Open Graph partners.

If you’re curious to see what information Facebook makes public about you before you get started, try using this tool.

Alternatively you could simply delete your account – which quite a few people have done including some engineers at Google – and use other social networking and sharing sites more heavily.

Your data is yours. Start treating it that way! As they say in the financial services world, CYA… cover your ass.

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  • Peter McDonald


    AWESOME! Thanks for posting this – I’ve always been suspect of the seemingly open license FaceBook uses with mine and my family’s information. While I enjoy playing some of the games, and keeping up with the ‘news’, I would much rather do so while maintaining a comfortable level of anonymity to all but those I choose to share with.



  • Phronk

    Thanks for this. I’d never noticed the “what your friends can share” settings before, which is a biggie.

    What I’m still baffled by (unless I’m missing something) is why the list of fan pages you follow is the only thing that can’t be made private. It’s such a random bit of data to keep public no matter what.

  • Derek Silva

    You’re welcome Peter!

    Phronk, I think fan pages falls under “Likes and Interests.” You’re right that there is no settings for fan pages themselves, but if you use the tool at that I linked to, you’ll see that putting in my profile name “derekesilva” simply brings up nothing.

    So I would say fan pages *can* be made public, they just fall under “Likes and interests” as far as I can tell.

  • Phronk

    I see your “likes” when I use that tool (not “interests” though). I also see your list of “pages” when I search for you on Facebook itself, even though I am not your friend.

    AFAIK there is no way to disable this. Likes or Pages or whatever are always available to everyone.

  • Derek Silva

    You’re right Phronk, the site must not have been working properly due to recent publicity and load. The “likes” that come up on are the pages I like on Facebook, or that I’m a fan of to use the old terminology.

    And clearly, seeing as how much I’ve locked down my profile, there’s no way to take those things away. In fact, Facebook gives you the option of making all of your interests (i.e. favourite books, music, movies) either linkable or you have to remove them completely from your profile – I chose the latter. Unfortunately Facebook still keeps that data for ad-targeting purposes.

    Right now I’m very interested in Diaspora –

    They were looking for USD$10,000 on to allow them to sit down and code full-time for a few months… they’ve raised over $50,000 so far, so clearly there’s a demand for an open alternative that offers a lot more control.

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  • Paus Leal

    It’s posts like this that keep me coming back and checking this site regularly, thanks for the info!

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  • http://Website pausleal

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  • KraEvDi

    I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

    • dereksilva

      Hi KraEvDi, yes you may quote my post on your blog with proper attribution back to my blog.

      And yes, you can follow me on Twitter @dereksilva.

      Have a nice day.

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