In the early days of Facebook, users posted all manner of personal and private data online. In hindsight, we were all green, but it didn’t feel like a privacy issue waiting to happen.
Until it became a massive data privacy issue. Now, the best privacy practice is to keep your Facebook profile private to protect your identity, your data, and even that of your friends.
Even if you have a private Facebook profile, people will attempt to sneak a look at it. So in this article we’ll explore how to view private Facebook profiles to help you stay safe.
What Is a Private Facebook Profile?
A private Facebook profile is an account that you cannot view without being friends. When you view a private Facebook profile, you don’t see any user information and, in many cases, don’t see a profile photo either. The user has switched off any public-facing profile settings, making the profile not quite anonymous, but certainly more private.
In the early days of Facebook, several tricks existed that allowed at least a partial view of a private Facebook account. For instance, adding someone as a friend once granted access to that person’s Facebook page, regardless of privacy settings.
Another workaround involved modifying the Facebook profile URL to gain access to profile images and other uploads. At the time, third-party tools that could circumvent at least some of Facebook’s privacy settings were available too.
Thankfully, Facebook has closed the overwhelming majority of these backdoors and workarounds. The intense scrutiny Facebook faces regarding the privacy of its users means accessing a private Facebook profile is extremely difficult. In that, the largest vulnerability is now the human connection: social engineering, weak passwords, and poor personal security.
How Do People Try to View Private Facebook Profiles?
Even if you set your Facebook profile to private, it doesn’t stop people from attempting to view it. Worse, setting your Facebook profile to private doesn’t close the loopholes people can use to skirt the privacy settings. They are, after all, loopholes. The clue is in the name.
There are a few methods people will use to engineer access to a private Facebook profile. Here’s what you need to watch out for.
1. Fake Facebook Friends
The most straightforward method is via a fake friend. Someone that desperately wants access to your private Facebook profile might create an entirely fake profile in order to befriend you and gain access to your Facebook profile.
A fake friend profile will use commonly known details to trick you into accepting a request. For instance, the (stolen) profile might feature a person of a similar age, have a similar set of interests and Likes, or say they come from the same hometown, school, or business; anything to create a false bond.
If someone is specifically targeting your account, they can use the information found on other accounts linked to yours to create the illusion of a colleague in a different department or a long-lost primary school friend.
The difficulty of spotting a fake Facebook friend depends on how you use your account. If you are already a very private individual with a small number of Facebook friends, it is easier to spot a fake request.
You can take control of your Facebook friend settings, including hiding your friends list and restricting who can make a friend request.
2. Spyware Apps
Once Facebook finally made it genuinely difficult to view a private Facebook profile, those desperate to view a profile turned to more extreme options. Installing spyware is one of those more extreme methods of viewing a private Facebook profile.
Spyware, and more recently, stalkerware (what is stalkerware?) installed on the device of a victim can provide direct access to a private Facebook account.
Spyware apps are not difficult to use. You can take some assurance in the fact that it won’t work unless someone has access to your computer or smartphone, or tricks you into downloading the spyware using a malicious email or link.
If someone is using a spyware app to view or mirror a Facebook account to a different device, it is difficult to detect. Especially if the person spying isn’t making any modifications or changing the behavior of the device. Thankfully, you do have options!
Check out our complete malware removal guide. It will help you find out if your device is hiding any spyware or malware, and explain how to remove it.
3. Password Theft
The third method for accessing a private Facebook profile is straight-up password theft. Facebook password creation rules are decent enough. You need a minimum of eight characters, including upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
Even with that combination, users will contrive to create the easiest password possible to remember. If you have an easy password, it is also easy for someone to guess it.
The other issue is password reuse. If you reuse a password across several sites and one of those suffers a data breach, you suddenly have several vulnerable accounts. You might not even realize your password is out in the wild, such is the volume of data breaches internet users contend with.
There is no tool to check your password on every site, for extremely obvious reasons. But you can head to Troy Hunt’s Have I Been Pwned? to find out if your email address and password has been exposed in a previous data breach.
Otherwise, start using stronger passwords, possibly using one of these online password generators to get you started.
Facebook Is a Security and Privacy Nightmare
A private Facebook profile should protect your data. But you shouldn’t entirely rely on Facebook. The social media giant is as much of a privacy issue as people attempting to view your private profile.
Facebook already holds the data as you enter it, upload photos, and Share and Like pages. Facebook’s tracking is prolific, and Facebook has been involved in numerous privacy scandals. Which isn’t a good combination.
In general, Facebook is a security and privacy nightmare. So, yes, protect your Facebook account against people preying on your data. But consider protecting yourself against the platform itself too