Alert: Facebook, Google make your face less private. Here’s the settings you should update right now

The warning message some Facebook members see
The warning message some Facebook members see

Facebook and Google both announced huge changes with major privacy implications in the past 48 hours. Once again, both companies have made subtle steps designed to erode your privacy to benefit their invasive business models.

Here’s what happened: Facebook made it easier for strangers to search for you and find you by name and face on the service. Google has decided to use your face and your name in advertisements without compensation. The measures have little or no benefit to you.


It’s fairly easy to opt out of Google’s advertising privacy grab, called “shared endorsements.” Visit this page to read more about it.

Then, if you don’t like it, scroll to the bottom of this page, and uncheck the box next to “Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads.”

Credit to Google for making the opt out easy, and for putting a call-out to the change on top of Google pages. But, of course the company is counting on the reality that the vast majority of consumers won’t read stories like this one and won’t notice the change. By default, users are signed up for ‘shared endorsements.”

(Sign up for the Bob Sullivan weekly e-mail newsletter. It only takes a moment!)

Facebook’s change is a bit more subtle, and can’t be reversed entirely. Until now, privacy-sensitive users could select an option which meant that strangers could not find them by search through the service. That option has been discontinued, which is a boon for would-be stalkers and harassers.

You can still block individual users from finding you, but you must do this pro-actively, and one stalker at a time. Naturally, nothing stops a would-be harasser from using a newly created fake account and finding you.

Now is a really good time to revisit the rest of your privacy settings to see exactly what a stranger would see if he or she found your page. Perhaps years ago, you signed up with an e-mail address or club affiliation that you wouldn’t want a stranger to see. You can make those individual pieces of information private, and you should. Facebook’s “View As…” feature can help. Even better — ask a real-world friend who is not a Facebook friend (yes, they do exist) to find you, and see what they person can see. If you see something you don’t want to share, adjust your profile “basic info” settings.

If the idea losing the ability to stop random strangers from finding your profile bothers you, try this step: Remove your face from your profile picture. Change it to something abstract, such as a landscape picture. That way, unless your name is very unique, a stranger who finds a link to your profile won’t know it’s you.

Also: Make sure to stop search engines from linking to items on your Facebook page. Under privacy settings, and “Who can look me up?” turn off the options available.

Worth noting: Facebook is now quite schizophrenic in the way it treats strangers. While making it easier for them to find your profile, it still doesn’t let strangers send you messages on the service — well, unless they pay money. Otherwise, their messages end up in the hard-to-find “other” inbox, which is listed in light grey next to your real inbox. There’s probably some messages in there from old friends or colleagues you should glance at.

About Bob Sullivan 918 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.