My Facebook Friends list is private, because there are some people I don't want to show I am friend with.

A while ago I created a Bob account for testing purposes and added Bob as a friend.
PROBLEM: Every week or so, Bob's email address receives such an email:

Do you know Deng Yaping, Liu Guoliang and 8 others?
People You May Know
Add the people you know to see their photos and updates.

Deng Yaping
Tibet University

[... 9 more names, with their networks and link to their profiles ...]

That defeats the purpose of having my Friends list private.

Is it a bug that affects only me or is it a known issue?

Is there a solution, or should I just refrain from using Facebook?

Note: I am aware that Bob can see the friends with whom I have any post/like/comment/tag activity, I am more concerned about some friends with whom I only exchange private messages.

  • Is there any indication that the people are friends with the real you? And are the only people it suggests your friends?
    – ChrisF
    Commented Sep 15, 2012 at 11:40
  • @ChrisF: Yes, all 10 suggested people are friends with real me. Every time.
    – nic
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 8:04
  • I thought that the people were your friends, but it's always worth double checking these things.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 8:06
  • 1
    TBH if you are really concerned with privacy, should you really be using Facebook, which is an almost open repository for private information? (Granted, privacy and security options have improved over the past few years, but still...)
    – Crollster
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 1:10
  • @Crollster: This could be said for all Facebook privacy questions: webapps.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/facebook+privacy Maybe people who dare caring about privacy should just stop using the Internet? ;-)
    – nic
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 10:53

5 Answers 5


I should note that if someone adds JUST him and gets these emails. Much like he set up the "Bob" account. They would only receive emails about friends on HIS account. Since he'd be their only friend it would be rather obvious wouldn't it? I'd say it's a problem with facebook's privacy for sure.


I would expect that all this is automated by Facebook and follows something like the following logic:

  1. "Bob" is friends with you.
  2. Deng Yaping, Liu Guoliang etc. are also friends with you.
  3. Therefore there is a high probability that "Bob" also knows Deng Yaping, Liu Guoliang etc.

Facebook is just doing what it's designed to do - find connections to new people. Now in this case you know something that Facebook doesn't - that "Bob" isn't real and therefore doesn't know anyone else.

It's unlikely that Facebook will ever change things to cater for "secret friends" as their whole business model is built on people connecting with each other.

  • 3
    I think you might be missing the point. The point is not that Bob isn't a real person - it is in fact that Bob should never be told about Deng Yaping, et al, based on friendship with the OP, since the OPs friends list is marked Private and thus should be off-limits for this kind of thing.
    – Crollster
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 9:26
  • @Crollster - Perhaps it should be off-limits, but it appears that Facebook is ignoring this.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 9:30
  • As ChrisF said Facebook is clearly ignoring this, but this is not the first time that someone has come along to question the way that Facebook handles privacy options. Most questions usually end up being that Facebook tends to use the theory of anything you post, add, or use on their site is free to use any way they wish. This is certainly one of Facebook's biggest and most debated issues. One thing to keep in mind is that the email they send to all the other "Bobs" that friend you is that they never say were exactly they got the list of potential friends. LinkedIn also does this as well. Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 11:43

In fairness, I don't think that Facebook is revealing that these are your friends. You happen to know that they are friends with you, but no one else getting that email will know that the people being suggested to them are your friends.

The only way someone could know that for sure was if you were there one and only friend on Facebook. If that is the case my bet is that they wont want to upset you by challenging you on the company you keep.


How would Bob know the list of ten people he's received is nic's private list of friends? If Bob is a real account and he goes on adding more friends, at the end of the day the lists of ten people he receives would probably be drawn randomly from some of the people connected with his added connections. But the fact that these people could be the connections of Bob's connections would still not come to Bob's knowledge as such. I beg to differ from nic's view regarding privacy. Instead, I think Facebook wants to affirm Bob's privacy by making sure that those connected to Bob's connections are not Bob's official friends. Sometimes, there is a need to make certain that, if you know what I mean. There is even a possibility that Facebook is under pressure to do so. If Bob knows none of those in those lists, these generated lists would appear as mere lists of strangers to Bob. And Bob would not have any idea who these people are connected with. You see what I mean? Then, by Bob's not adding anyone from those lists generated every so often, the system officially confirms that these are not Bob's friends. And that's why the system asks Bob every so often if these so and so and eight others are people Bob knows as friends, but Bob is free to choose to add from those lists if he spots anyone he does know as his true friends. By so doing the system, in the form of questionnaires, checks the facts regularly to seek confirmations, mostly for expected negative answers. And dated records are then filed to the system regularly for periodic statistical tallying to calculate growth of social networks of the system's members. I hope that answers the question. I guess this is what the system does with those automatically generated lists.

With all those generated lists I received in the past, those people were never marked by the system as who's whose friends. I have no ideas who those people are and who they are connected with. So to those people whose connections have been featured in these people lists and who are someone's private connections, it is not felt that the system has divulged who on those lists are specifically whose connections. To me I don't find a privacy issue in them.

I can give you a real good example to explain further what I mean as a case in point. I have a Facebook account that has not yet added any friends. So my friends list is 0. But I still receive those generated lists of 10 people occasionally. So whose connections are they?

But of course, I'm only commenting on the privacy issue regarding these people lists. Of course, I can't say for sure about other privacy issues of Facebook.

  • "How would Bob know ..." Easy: Bob would just have to remove any other friends who hides their friends list. When Bob receives the email, he removes the names that are his other friends' friends lists, and the remainder are... my friends! who should not have been revealed, if Facebook was serious about privacy.
    – nic
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 6:34
  • Your concern is a little bit like a situation where during election times for example, when you and your neighbours received some electioneering pamphlets in the mailboxes, containing all the parties' names running. You happened to be friends with one of the candidates, or you might have had lunch with one of them. And you start having doubts whether your neighbours should be getting those candidate lists just because you happen to know some of those people on those lists. And you see your neighbours' receiving the lists in their mailboxes as potential privacy issues infringing on your rights!
    – Locy
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 7:18
  • No. During an election, everyone receives the same list. Better analogy, in a small village: It is like if I mix your secret address book with the village's public phone book, and send the result to your neighbours. You might not want your neighbours to know who is in your secret address book, right?
    – nic
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 10:46
  • So have you thought about opening a few more Facebook accounts to double or triple your grievances? Because then, you could prove with double or triple strength that Facebook are sending more people lists between these accounts, and it all came to a head because you are the one same person in control of multiple accounts?
    – Locy
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 11:14
  • The reason you found this out is because you are the one same person who worked backward by elimination. With a few more friends added by Bob to his account, the people lists would hardly be complete lists from Bob's any one particular friend's connections. The lists would be drawn from random mix of various people, none of them marked as who's whose connections. So your analogy raises some questions.
    – Locy
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 11:22

I have also had a few experiences like this. It happens every so often, quite infrequently I must admit. I think Facebook has adopted this intelligent measure to separate levels of or make classifications of human relationships based on computer logic, such as between the added names and those that you haven't added in order to file a dated record of the scope of the growth in social networks of users. This is done to delineate their social networking strands in their internal system of webs of human relationships. For example, after you have added Bob, and when Bob receives those "so and so and eight others" emails but Bob does not physically add any of those 10 people as friends, the system only recognises the official friendship between you and Bob and not Bob and others that you know as friends. Since the computer system only recognises signals as on and off, it therefore sort of delineates the social groups and every so often files records on the internal web of relations of users to its central computer for statistical purposes perhaps, where in their records only you and Bob are officially recognised digitally as having a connection in their definition of networking.

  • Nice commentary actually, but it doesn't really answer the question asked.... Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 7:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.