By Praveen Kannan and Anna Strokolyst The Hotspot Shield team believes the internet should be open and secure …
Social media sites like Facebook make it easier than ever to keep up with your connections. With the ability to follow everyone from friends and family to your favorite brands and celebrities, it’s clear that these sites offer an incredibly expansive reach. Now, you don’t even have to know someone to find their posts. If you’re not taking action to prevent it, your Facebook posts are searchable to anyone on the Internet, diminishing your social media privacy until it’s nearly nonexistent.
Understand Facebook Search
Before you can take action to protect yourself from Facebook’s new search features, it’s important to understand what’s going on. Until recently, Facebook’s search bar would allow you to search for posts within your network of friends. Instead of looking up each one of your friends to see if they were talking about the latest episode of Downton Abbey, you would simply search Downton Abbey and get a handy rundown of the buzz in your network over your favorite show.
In October 2015, Facebook took this feature a step further so that users could search all of the behemoth site’s posts for a particular topic. With 2 trillion daily posts, this is an incredibly wide net to cast. The site ranks your results so you’ll see authoritative sites first, followed by posts from your network, with results from complete strangers at the bottom. If you have a wide enough network, you may never notice the posts popping up from people you don’t know.
This new function means that any Facebook user can access your personal posts if they happen to search a relevant topic, whether they have a connection to you or not. This new feature didn’t receive a fresh name or much buzz, so you may have missed it. However, the enhanced searchability is available on iOS, Android, and desktop versions of Facebook. If you’re not comfortable with your posts popping up in strangers’ search results, keep reading to find out what you can do about it.
Look at Your Profile Through Fresh Eyes
You may think your social media privacy settings are hiding all your posts, but Facebook has some tricky loopholes that could leave them open to the public. To see what a stranger will find, go to your Facebook profile and click the “…” button next to “View Activity Log.” Select “View As…” and take a look at your profile from the public’s viewpoint. You can also choose to view your profile as a specific person if you’re curious about what a certain individual sees looking at your page.
What you see here is searchable. If there’s something you’d rather exclude from the search feature, it’s time to tweak your privacy settings.
Hide Past Posts
To hide posts from the past, select “Settings” in the top right corner of Facebook. Choose “Privacy” and “Who can see my stuff?” From here, you can choose “Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or Public” and select “Limit Old Posts.”
Protect Future Posts
If you’re ready to start hiding your posts in the future, you’ll also need to visit the “Privacy” tab under “Settings.” Look under “Who can see my stuff?” and “Who can see your future posts?” This is where you limit your posts to Friends only or a custom list of viewers. You’ll also see this option on the bottom right corner of all new posts.
Hiding Items From Your Timeline
Facebook now gives you the option to hide specific posts from your Timeline. This will exclude them from your profile when people view your page. However, you should know that hiding something from your timeline doesn’t make it unsearchable.
The post will still show up for anyone included within its social media privacy settings. If your settings specify that the post is visible only to friends, it won’t show up to the public. It’s important to understand that it will show up to friends, though. If you don’t want anyone to ever find the post, you need to delete it rather than hide it from your timeline.
Removing Posts from Search Engine Results
Your privacy settings allow you to choose whether your posts will show up using a search engine like Google or Yahoo. While this will protect your future posts, it may still leave your history exposed if you haven’t blocked your information before.
If you made a post public in the past, it may have been indexed by various search engines. Changing the privacy settings for that post now won’t remove the cached version of it. You can delete the post to make the link invalid, but the content may still be visible. Your next course of action is to contact the search engine’s support team to inquire about having the information removed. Completely wiping your social media footprint from the Internet is incredibly difficult, so it’s important to think carefully before you post anything you wouldn’t want to leak.
While the search functionality on Facebook can be helpful for learning more about trending topics, it’s a hindrance if you’re concerned about security. Take the proper steps to keep your personal information private as soon as possible.