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

by Bob Sullivan on October 12, 2013

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.

  • christine

    why do I even still have a Facebook account?

  • Sandy

    There are many companies out there right now that use similar principals and methods to have as much information be made available to the marketer as possible. They know when we post, when we forward something they’ve sent us, when we open the email, and follow all other activity we have on or through their site/email. They know what you like, what you don’t like, what you spend your time on. It feels as invasive as knowing that someone you work with or for knows when or if you’ve opened an email that they’ve sent you. I’ve been focusing more on generating more healthy relationships in general and moving away from these types of situations. Tough to navigate sometimes. I want to be connected, but I’m not so comfortable with some of it.

  • Sandy

    Bob…. question. Does this not apply if not upgraded to Google+ ? Thanks.

  • Sandy, since Google+ isn’t precisely an upgrade, yes it does. But you raise a good point — many of the impacts will be from people who +1 around the web. From Google’s page: “This only happens when you take an action (things like +1’ing, commenting or following).” Still, you should opt out if the idea makes you uncomfortable.

    • Sandy

      Hey Bob,
      Thanks. I was wondering because I can’t seem to find the place to opt out and it keeps prompting me to “upgrade” to Google +. I’ve gone to the site several times and back through your original post and clicked on the pages you suggest as well. I don’t really know what I’m doing wrong. I will keep looking into it though.

    • Sandy

      I think it must be that I never set up my profile to begin with so it keeps prompting me to do so when I click on the place to learn more about Shared endorsements… I guess I’m good unless I create a profile later for work connections, which may happen – and then I will have to remember that I need to opt out. Frustrating. But glad to know about it. Thanks!

Previous post:

Next post: