How to protect your social media privacy on the top three social platforms

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The more often you use social media, the more important it is to preserve your social media privacy. 

A 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 69% of American adults use at least one social media platform — and many people use several. In fact, there’s a major overlap between the most popular platforms, according to a second 2018 Pew Research Center report. A whopping 91% of Instagram users also use Facebook, for instance, while 73% of Twitter users also use Instagram.

Your social media accounts contain a wealth of personally identifiable information (PII), which companies and advertisers can use to tailor your web content and send you targeted ads. And, if you operate multiple social media accounts, your personal information is spread across the internet, making you more vulnerable to tracking and breaches. 

Fortunately, there are simple ways to improve your social media privacy on every platform. The first step is familiarizing yourself with the unique privacy policies and settings on the different sites you use. 

Here’s what you need to know about protecting your personal information on the top three social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

How to protect your social media privacy on Facebook

Excluding YouTube, Facebook ranks as the most popular form of social media. Nearly two-thirds (68%) of adults in the United States are Facebook users, according to the Pew Research Center report. There are more than 2.38 billion monthly active users on the platform, according to a 2019 quarterly report from Facebook

In addition to being the most ubiquitous, Facebook is also the most revealing form of social media. The platform houses information about your job, age, school, friends, family, relationship status, location, political affiliation, interests, and preferences. Facebook advertisers and partners can gather information on you by monitoring your profile, newsfeed habits, and “likes,” as well as analyzing your friends’ posts. 

Having such sensitive information online means the fallout from a breach is much greater. Facebook has been involved in several data breaches, including the Cambridge Analytica breach, which compromised over 50 million Facebook users’ personal information. 

Reading Facebook’s privacy policy, however, can help you make more informed choices about what you post and share on the site. The policy states that the company collects information from all your communications on the platform, including what you like and what your friends share or post about you. Apps, websites, and third-party integrations can also access the personal information on your profile if you give them permission. Facebook says they use this information to improve the user experience and create sponsored ads. The company also reserves the right to share information with advertisers and partners, but promises never to sell your personal information. 

To protect your social media privacy on Facebook, start by visiting your settings, then review the following categories: “Privacy,” “Timeline and Tagging,” “Stories,” “Location,” “Apps and Websites,” “Business Integrations,” “Your Facebook Information,” and “Ads.” Consider making these 10 changes to your settings:

  1. Prohibit people from searching for your profile using your phone number or email address (Privacy). 

  2. Prevent search engines from linking to your profile (Privacy). 

  3. Opt to review posts you’re tagged in before they show up on your timeline (Timeline and Tagging).

  4. Limit old posts from showing up on your timeline (Timeline and Tagging). 

  5. Turn off your location history (Location). 

  6. Delete the apps and websites connected to your Facebook account or edit the information these apps are allowed to access (Apps and Websites). 

  7. Delete or change your interests (Ads). 

  8. Manage which ads Facebook sends you based on your profile information (Ads).

  9. Prevent Facebook from sending you certain ads based on your online activity (Ads).

  10. View and download your personal information, then adjust who’s allowed to see it (Your Facebook Information). 

How to protect your social media privacy on Instagram

Instagram, the leading space for photo and video collections, continues to grow. According to the Pew Research report, 35% of American adults use Instagram, a number that went up 7% from 2016. The platform now has more than one billion monthly active users, and over 500 million daily active users. Plus, it’s prolific among younger generations: 71% of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have accounts

Facebook also owns Instagram, which means the two companies have similar privacy policies. In Instagram’s privacy policy, the company says they reserve the right to collect your personal information, including what you post, what you like, and what you click on. If you use Instagram on your phone, the company also collects information on and about your device. They might share your information with businesses that are affiliates of Instagram, as well as third-party services that help improve the user experience. They also maintain the right to remove certain pieces of personal information to anonymize you before sharing information with other outside parties and say they won’t share information that specifically identifies you unless you give permission. 

Instagram has far fewer privacy settings than Facebook, but there are still several smart adjustments you can make to help protect your social media privacy. To get started, visit your settings, then check “Privacy,” “Security,” “Authorized Applications,” and “Manage Contacts.” Consider these five options:

  1. Set your account to private (Privacy).

  2. Prevent other people from seeing your online activity status (Privacy).

  3. Disable the setting that allows people to share your stories as messages (Privacy). 

  4. Request to download the information the company has collected on you (Security). 

  5. If you have a Facebook account, adjust your ad preferences on Facebook to control how Instagram uses your information (since Instagram uses your Facebook settings).

How to protect your social media privacy on Twitter

Founded in 2006, Twitter has become a staple social media platform. One in four American adults has a Twitter account, and nearly half of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 use Twitter, according to the Pew Research report. The site has 330 million monthly active users, according to Twitter’s 2019 quarter one report.  

Because Twitter is public by nature, maintaining social media privacy on this platform is more complicated. Unless you take specific steps to guard your account, your Twitter profile is automatically public, which means anyone on or off the platform can view your profile information, Tweets, Retweets, comments, and favorites. 

Twitter’s privacy policy states that the company gathers your location information, cookies, information on the device you’re using, and PII like your email address, phone number, and contacts if you choose to share them. Their policy states that they may monitor what you’ve Tweeted, read, Retweeted, or liked to collect information on your interests, age, and preferences in order to tailor your newsfeed and show you personalized ads. They also reserve the right to share any personal information with third parties when you give your permission. Think: authorizing a connected app to access your contact information. However, you can retrieve and edit your personal information — as well as your privacy preferences — at any time. 

Here are nine Twitter privacy changes to consider if you want to better protect your privacy against users, advertisers, and third parties (: 

  1. Protect your tweets so only people who follow you can see them. This also lets you approve or deny requests from people who want to follow you (Privacy and safety > Privacy). 

  2. Disable the setting that automatically adds a location to your tweets (Privacy and safety > Privacy).

  3. Manage who’s allowed to tag you in photos (Privacy and safety > Privacy).

  4. Prevent people from searching for you using your phone number or email address (Privacy and safety > Privacy).

  5. Control how Twitter saves your personal information (Privacy and safety > Privacy).

  6. Disable personalized ads and prevent Twitter from using your profile information and activity to tailor your newsfeed (Privacy and safety > Personalization and Data). 

  7. Prohibit Twitter from sharing your interests and activity with business partners (Privacy and safety > Personalization and Data). 

  8. Revoke Twitter’s access to certain apps and devices connected to your account (Apps and devices).

  9. Edit your “Inferred interests” and “Tailored audiences” to see fewer targeted ads (Your Twitter data). 

Protect your social media privacy on mobile devices

If you use social media on your phone or tablet, it’s a good idea to review the app permissions on your device. Under settings, click on the location, photos, microphone, camera, and contacts categories to see which social media apps have access to this information. From there, you can revoke app permissions or adjust them. If you don’t want Facebook to know your location, for example, you can change the access to “never” or “only while in use,” meaning the company will only retrieve your location when the app is open. 

Get better control over your social media privacy

Social media was designed to help you express yourself on your terms — but you shouldn’t have to give up your privacy in the process. While adjusting your social media privacy settings can help you better protect your personal information, it’s still difficult to trust that every company will use your information responsibly. 
To get more control over your privacy, consider using an all-in-one tool like FigLeaf. Our app lets you choose the level of privacy you want on each social media platform you visit, whether you want complete visibility, total anonymity, or something in between. And because we believe privacy is a choice, you can change your mind — and your settings — as often as you want.

Author: FigLeaf Team