Stealth Mode: Making Yourself Completely Invisible on Facebook

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Q: Growing tired of the Facebook privacy scandals, I tried to leave the social network, but you need to be a member now to access a number of outside websites. How can I get around this?

A: Facebook, as you're well aware by this point, has a history of privacy scandals. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is constantly trying to push what privacy means in the 21st century -- how transparent should we all be on the Internet? -- but with each step, a significant number of users push back. Last week, Facebook announced on its Developers blog that it was making it possible for third-party applications to gain access to users' mobile phone numbers and addresses. By early Monday morning the Facebook team had dialed back the change until further notice. (For more on this issue: "The Next Facebook Privacy Scandal: Sharing Phone Numbers, Addresses.")

Some of the privacy issues have been just too much for users, resulting in cancelled accounts. But more and more organizations are joining the Facebook Connect network and incorporating the site's development tools into their own. It's getting to the point where you're at a disadvantage if you don't have a Facebook account; you can use it to log in with the same username and password on more than two million sites -- it's not just for checking in on your cousin's newest baby pictures. So, here's the trick: You can go completely invisible on Facebook -- nobody will be able to view your photographs, see your activity or where you've checked in except for existing friends -- but still have an account to use around the web.

If you're ready to move into Facebook stealth mode, follow these simple steps:

  • Visit Facebook.com, log in to your profile and click 'Account' in the top-right corner. From there, choose 'Privacy Settings.'
  • From the 'Privacy Settings' page, click on 'View Settings' to see who can search for you, send messages to your account, see your education and work settings and more. Change all of these drop-down menus to 'Friends Only.'
  • Return to the 'Privacy Settings' page and choose 'Customize Settings' near the bottom of the page. This new page will load a number of different privacy options, but you'll want to click through each one and change the setting to 'Only Me' so that nobody else can see your Facebook activity.
  • Stay on the 'Customize Settings' page and scroll down to 'Things Others Share.' Here, you'll want to edit and disable settings so that your friends are unable to write on your wall, comment on posts and check you in to places.
  • Return to the 'Privacy Settings' page and, under 'Apps and Websites' in the bottom-left corner, select 'Edit Your Settings.' This page shows all of the third-party websites and applications that you have given access to some of your Facebook information. If you see anything on this list that you want to remove, just click to remove it from the list.
  • Stay on the 'Apps and Websites' page, scroll down to 'Instant Personalization' and select 'Edit Settings.' Uncheck the box at the bottom of this page to block other websites from accessing your Facebook interests. Select 'Confirm' when a pop-up asks you if you're sure you want to disable this option.
  • Return to the 'Apps and Websites' page, scroll down to 'Public Search' and select 'Edit Settings.' To keep search engines from finding your Facebook profile, uncheck the box on this new screen.

Tools mentioned in this entry:

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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