Almost everybody who has an Internet connection has a social media account on at least one popular platform.
Thanks to their high popularity, social networks hold real security risks and significant privacy concerns.
"Personal" networks like Facebook expose their users to a higher risk of a breach of privacy.
Anonymous networks like reddit or 4chan are a better target for spam and attempts to distribute malware because of lower personal accountability.
In this social media privacy guide, I will cover the different privacy concerns of the most popular social networks and show you how to take control of your privacy settings.
I'll start with the dangers lurking inside the different social media platforms, and then I'll demonstrate how to control your privacy settings better in order to complete this social media privacy article.
Contrary to popular belief, social media is not only Facebook and Twitter.
In fact, these platforms aren't even in the same category.
There are different approaches to classifying social networks, and in this case I base my classification on common threats to your security and privacy on social media.
This type mainly consists of social networks and instant messengers. Here are a few examples of each:
Instant messenger apps:
The main purpose of these apps and services is to allow you to connect directly and interact with people you know or would like to know on a personal level.
In this case, the threat to your privacy lies mainly in knowingly and unknowingly over-sharing your personal information.
Over-sharing could mean sharing too much personal information or publicly sharing information, the latter of which is fine to share with friends but that you wouldn't want everybody to know.
In order to avoid mistakes like this, you should be aware of your privacy settings for each social profile and actively modify them to suit your preferences when necessary.
In fact, the less you share, the better.
In some cases, malicious factors could try to obtain your personal information or steal your identity by pretending to be somebody else over an unsolicited IM, or simply by using a fake profile on a social network.
There have been plenty of cases where by using social engineering (a.k.a. convincing you they're telling the truth), scammers cheated people out of good amounts of cash, or even stole their identities.
(A good example of this is the ever-popular tech support scam which is basically some foreign dude calling you up and scaring you into paying them for tech support by claiming that Windows error logs on your computer are malware. All lies.)
Doxxing is the act of exposing private information about a person by collecting it from publicly accessible sources online.
For example, your Facebook profile might expose your marital status, how many children you have, whether you have a pet, where you live, work, or study, and a lot about your history.
Cyber bullying is the act of malicious mass-harassment of one person by another person, or even a group of people, using technological means such as texting, posting to your Facebook profile, writing in a Whatsapp group, etc.
Cyber stalking is the act of repeated unsolicited online contact in order to harass or frighten a person.
Cyber extortion happens when a person obtains personal materials and extorts the victim under the threat of exposure to the world. Black Mirror anyone?
Once again, prevention is the best cure!
All of the above can be avoided by following one simply rule: Think carefully before you share anything with anyone!
This category of social media is mostly used by bloggers, vloggers, webcasters, podcasters, photographers, webmasters, musicians, politicians, and anyone who has something to say, show, or share with an audience of followers:
All of the above differ from the previous category because their purpose is to transmit information and data from one person to an audience.
The risk of over-sharing is higher here, as it's more difficult to hold back when you enthusiastically communicate with a crowd of avid readers, listeners, or viewers.
Gaining too much of a following places you at the center of attention, and if you unnecessarily exposed personal details about yourself when you were small-time, it could get back to you when you're big time.
Your posts, images, and videos might contain a variety of information you show or mention as an afterthought.
Despite the fact that the right to be forgotten is a hot subject in the past few years and some European countries made incredibly positive progress.
However, its an uphill struggle in each and every country where the public vocally demands the right because companies like Google, whose lifeblood is data, fight the lawmakers in court.
Therefore, seeing that the debate is turbulent and real results will take time to materialize, whatever you do online is still recorded and remembered.
Somebody with an unhealthy obsession or an axe to grind with you might just sit down and start collecting information about you for their own purposes.
Since you're more active online than the average Joe, you are also more exposed to the risks of over-sharing, which I mentioned in the previous section.
You should also make sure your page, website, and service accounts are secured from hackers.
If somebody manages to access your accounts, they might gain access to your financial information on various services.
Even if you blog under a pseudonym, your real details are still in the billing info section, and you don't want anyone to gain access to those.
So, a few quick security tips:
For more actionable security tips I recommend reading this article about protecting yourself online.
There are still less intrusive social media sites and apps which allow you to engage with the world anonymously, or at least behind a layer of anonymity.
You can always bypass the available privacy features by simply posting personal information, but I really don't recommend it.
Some of them are: Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, Voat, the ever-anonymous 4chan, and a plethora of specialized online forums.
Collaborative social networks where a group of people strives towards a common goal, such as Wikipedia, are also relatively safe in terms of privacy, however, Wikipedia specifically logs every change you make along with your IP address. This is only done to moderate the quality of content and to prevent abuse.
All things considered, you can probably find a social circle that suits you in one of those communities and remain anonymous.
Even the layer of anonymity these communities allow can be bypassed by intentional doxxing.
Doxxing, as you may recall, is the act of collecting and exposing personal information about a person by using information accessible online.
Reddit demonstrated a chilling example of doxxing during the search for the Boston marathon bomber in 2013 by raising accusations towards an innocent person who ended up committing suicide because of this.
The reddit echo chamber, enhanced by a sincere desire to catch the perpetrator of the bombing, ended up causing a tsunami of misinformation to flood the web.
You can still see the melancholically sarcastic "we did it, reddit!" comments whenever the subject is mentioned in a discussion thread.
So, once again:
Treat your personal information with extreme care. A misstep today might subject you to a world of problems tomorrow.
In the beginning of 2017, a UK-based law firm, Schillings, released a report named Growing Up Digital, and on page 10 it included Instagram's Terms of Service which the firm's resident privacy expert, Jenny Afia, rewrote in a language suitable for children.
Clearly, when the official terms look as they do, I (and the vast majority of people) would be far less inclined to read them and far more inclined to blindly agree.
Have you read them?
I think not.
Long documents with a complicated language naturally repel us from reading them.
And every one of us is currently bound by legal agreements for every app, service, and website we use at all times.
In my opinion, legislators must mandate an easily-understood language for User Agreements of this sort and eliminate Legalese from our day-to-day lives.
Transparency is not only about accessibility, it's also about approachability.
Each of your social networks have these documents, and the most important ones are:
It's also true to mobile apps, but in the case of apps you're also warned about the information collected from your device by the app before you install it. Don't ignore this warning.
For example, apps like TrueCaller request access to areas of the device which I wouldn't be comfortable allowing, so I choose not to use such caller ID apps.
I break down the Terms and Privacy documents for some of the social networks below.
Make sure you read them anyway.
Let's move on to the actionable part:
Facebook is fun and addictive, but it can become a breeding ground for compromising your social media privacy with far-reaching consequences.
A study conducted by Western University (Ontario, CA) in 2015 found that out of 100 surveyed people, 88 have claimed to "stalk" their ex's Facebook pages and spy on their images and posts.
But you're not only exposed to your acquaintances on Facebook.
In fact, the wrong privacy settings on a Facebook event post could be disastrous. This teenager from Haren in the Netherlands learned it the hard way.
By making her 16th birthday party event public to everyone on Facebook, she drew a crowd of 3,000 to the small town, and drunken riots ensued.
Surely, Facebook could circumvent stalking and other privacy breaches, but without reserving the right to use your personal details under its Terms of Service, it wouldn't be able to profit off your engagement.
There's a saying:
In fact, there's even a suitable illustration:
When you sign up for a social media account, you have to “Agree to the terms and usage of this service(s)" to which most of us agree blindly.
Let's take a look at Facebook's Terms of Service for hidden gems:
Section (2) - Sharing Your Content and Information
 For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
Did you catch that?
Facebook can use anything media you upload for their own purposes. It's theirs now!
Section (4) - Registration and Account Security
 You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.
 You will not create more than one personal account.
 If we disable your account, you will not create another one without our permission.
 You will keep your contact information accurate and up-to-date.
You have to hand them your identity and keep them posted about any changes.
The Data Policy tells you which information Facebook collects and how it uses it.
Here are the excerpts I consider the most interesting:
I. What kinds of information do we collect?
Look at all the information Facebook knows about you.
At this time, there's nothing too sinister about how they use the data.
Mostly, it's used for targeting ads you're likely to be interested in based on your interests and behavior, research, and product improvement.
II. How do we use this information?
But be aware that Facebook also shares it with the other companies in their group (like Instagram and WhatsApp) and third-party partners:
III. How is this information shared?
Sharing On Our Services
And of course, if your government needs information about you, Facebook may cooperate.
Not only that, even if your account was closed, Facebook will keep information about disabled accounts as well.
V. How do we respond to legal requests or prevent harm?
We may access, preserve and share your information in response to a legal request (like a search warrant, court order or subpoena) if we have a good faith belief that the law requires us to do so. This may include responding to legal requests from jurisdictions outside of the United States where we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law in that jurisdiction, affects users in that jurisdiction, and is consistent with internationally recognized standards. We may also access, preserve and share information when we have a good faith belief it is necessary to: detect, prevent and address fraud and other illegal activity; to protect ourselves, you and others, including as part of investigations; or to prevent death or imminent bodily harm. For example, we may provide information to third-party partners about the reliability of your account to prevent fraud and abuse on and off of our Services. Information we receive about you, including financial transaction data related to purchases made with Facebook, may be accessed, processed and retained for an extended period of time when it is the subject of a legal request or obligation, governmental investigation, or investigations concerning possible violations of our terms or policies, or otherwise to prevent harm. We also may retain information from accounts disabled for violations of our terms for at least a year to prevent repeat abuse or other violations of our terms.
Our desire to get on with it and avoid reading the hellish legal document allows companies to use our participation in their services for their intended purposes.
They collect our data, serve us ads based on the interest we've shown, or in some cases - use us as guinea pigs!
To briefly summarize this article, 700 thousand users' newsfeeds were manipulated to show either a happy and uplifting posts or negative ones without their knowledge, which in turn affected how these people began to feel in general.
Granted, this is quite an interesting research for which it would be hard to get active consent from such a large sample.
But it could be perceived as a morally (not legally) questionable methodology.
In light of this, I explored some ways to protect your personal data on Facebook.
If you haven't looked at your privacy settings since you signed up to Facebook, I strongly recommend following these steps in order to improve your privacy on Facebook and be aware of which information you expose, and to whom.
Sign in to your account, click the small arrow located at the top right-hand side of the screen and select "Settings".
Choose "Privacy" from the left-hand sidebar menu and review your current privacy settings and make sure they suit your own personal preferences.
Seeing that under Facebook's Terms of Service you must provide your real name and they have a right to demand a proof of identity in the form of a government-issued ID, you should really consider drastically limiting access to your profile.
This menu allows you to limit access to your Facebook page and your activity, not only by other users but also by search engines.
Blocking search engines is very useful in different scenarios.
For example, if you're undergoing a hiring process for a workplace, and you don't want anybody to find your Facebook page because, well, reasons.
The next set of options you want to look at is the Timeline and Tagging menu.
This is a more specific set of Facebook privacy rules which relates exclusively to the privacy of your timeline and tagging done by your friends.
After you went over these settings, take a look at the Blocking menu which allows you to block specific actions by specific users, apps, and pages.
The settings of your Public Posts are also worth a glance:
To be covered completely, I recommend that you go over the rest of the settings as well: Apps, Mobile, Notifications, and most importantly, Security.
The Security settings are important from a different aspect, not as much from the Privacy aspect, but they're important nonetheless.
If you don't want your personal information to be used for advertising, you should also take a look at the Ads section and customize the settings according to your own preferences.
The default settings are maximally intrusive:
One optimistic note before I sum up the issue of Facebook privacy:
Facebook proactively warns you when something happens that might compromise your privacy, although I wouldn't rely solely on Facebook's initiative when it comes to my social media privacy.
Here's an example of a warning the FB app shows when you receive a like from somebody who isn't your friend:
My bottom line for Facebook's privacy rules:
Block access to everything you don't need to be shared by anyone you don't need accessing it.
Note that each service has its own additional Terms of Service. For example, here are the Additional Terms of Google Plus.
Google+ is the latest social network released by Google.
Google's attempts at building a social network to compete with Facebook remind me of Wile E. Coyote trying to catch up with the road runner.
You might have not even heard about some of the failures Google sustained in the field of social networks, which span the following blasts from the past:
Orkut, Dodgeball, Jaiku, Latitude, Google Wave and Google Buzz.
Some of these were developed by Google, and some have been acquired; some of these were put to rest, and some were opened to the public for developers to play with.
Immediately upon the release of Google+ in 2011, the company made its first transgression by opening a Google+ profile for everybody who already had a Google account.
Personally, I can tell you that I was upset with this default opt-in and deleted my own Google+ account as soon as I found out I had one.
What's more, if you search for some of your friends who have a Gmail address dating earlier than 2010, you still might find their (usually blank) Google+ page if you look up their name as it appears in Gmail.
Would you like to find out whether you have an unused Google+ account and learn how to delete it?
Start by Signing in to your Google account.
This is the account dashboard which allows you to control and configure all of your Google services, but it's also the easiest way to delete your Google+ page.
Pick "Delete your account or services":
On the next screen, click on "Delete products":
Now, you can simply click the trash can icon next to the Google+ item on the list.
If there is no Google+ item on the list, you probably deleted your profile already.
Since we're talking about Google Plus here and not about Google overall, I'll focus on the social privacy settings only.
However, I can't help but recommend that you review all the settings accessible from your account's dashboard to maximize control over your Google account's privacy and security settings.
Moving on to the privacy settings of Google+ for all the active account holders:
Log in to your Google+ profile and go to "Settings."
This will open up all the privacy options you can customize on this social network.
Some notable options here include Photos and Videos, Profile visibility, Location Sharing, and Privacy options.
Note that you can also delete your profile page using the option at the bottom of this long list of configurations as an alternative to the first method I mentioned before.
LinkedIn is a professional social network which was acquired by Microsoft in 2016 and attracted over 400 million members since its launch in 2002.
This is what every company who respects its user base (and itself) should be doing!
Since its inception, LinkedIn has become the largest professional network for building professional relationships, applying for jobs, and for active headhunting by companies' HR departments.
Seeing as this is a professional network, you might want to keep it separate from your other social media accounts on other platforms like Facebook.
You wouldn't want to make the wrong impression or allow your personal opinions to affect your chances of being hired.
But that's up to you and you alone.
The platform itself offers a wide range of privacy settings you can customize based on your own preferences.
So, how do you change the social media privacy settings of your LinkedIn profile?
Start by accessing your account settings:
The settings are divided into 3 parts and each has different privacy settings you can modify.
Your Privacy Settings section is the most important one.
This section allows you to control third-party access to your data, transparency of your network, visibility of your profile information, and other crucial privacy features.
Your Communications Settings allow you to decide who's allowed to communicate with you and who isn't.
You can control unsolicited communication permissions, block communications from members and groups, decide whether you want to send out Read Receipts, and opt out of various notifications.
Even your Account Settings have a few options which might interest you, such as the visibility of your details and permissions granted to third-party apps.
This is also where you can find the options to download an archive of your account's entire data and to close your account.
Twitter is a well-known social network for sending out messages (tweets) of 140-characters or less into the world.
Tweets are public unless you restrict them under the Privacy settings.
A study published by Pewinternet.org, reveals that 64% of teens who have Twitter accounts say that their tweets are public, while 24% say their tweets are private.
However, interestingly enough, the remaining 12% didn’t know whether their tweets were public or private.
So, how do you change an account from public to private?
Log in to your Twitter account, click on your profile image in the top right corner, and pick "Settings and privacy."
On the next page, select Security and Privacy on the left-hand side menu.
One of the options is "Tweet Privacy" and once you activate it, future tweets will only be available to a group of followers you choose to approve.
I recommend that you customize all of the above settings according to your preferences; this way you'll know what you're sharing and who might see it.
One noteworthy option allows users who shared their location in the past to delete their entire location history they shared on Twitter at a click of a button.
In addition to the above menu, Twitter surpasses Facebook in terms of transparency by allowing you to request your entire archive of Tweets from the "Account" menu.
Some other notable settings allow you to mute and block accounts, review your login history, and manage third-party apps to which you granted certain permissions in the past. All this can be done under the menu at the bottom named "Your Twitter Data."
Instagram is an extremely popular mobile app which over 400 million people use every day.
It's a social networking app made for filtering and sharing photos, videos, and live stories from smartphones.
In 2015, Quartz magazine exposed a hole in Instagram's privacy settings.
Basically, pictures which users had posted were private only if the account was set to private before posting and as long as the user didn't share the picture on additional platforms (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) when he/she posted it.
And still, anyone who tried to access the page of the photo using the direct URL could do so outside of the app on the Instagram website.
Instagram closed this security loophole before Quartz published the article, but you still have to manually set the account to be private after you install the app.
Here's how to change your Instagram profile from Public to Private.
Access the Options, locate the "Account" section and the "Private account" option under that section.
Tap the slider and confirm the change in the warning popup that appears by clicking "OK".
This is the first step of Instagram privacy.
Here are some additional settings you should be familiar with.
You can hide your story from specific people and you can limit the group of people who can reply to your posts.
Don't share too much information on your profile's Bio.
The most important part is not sharing every picture you take without thinking.
You should never share pictures that identify your location in real-time, this basically tells the world that you're not home right now.
Bear in mind that if you regularly share your location on Instagram along with every shared picture, you also tell everyone where you live.
If you combine the last 2 sentences, you get a recipe commonly used by burglars searching for an easy target.
So pick your Instagram circle of friends carefully, be mindful of what you share at all times, turn off Location on your device, and set the account to Private unless you actually need everyone to see your pictures.
Now let's move on to a social app called Snapchat. Its daily unique users surpass 100 million!
Snapchat was released in 2011 and offered its audience the option to share snaps - self-deleting messages, photos, and videos.
Anything you sent would have been permanently deleted after a short period of time.
Sounds secure, right?
Anyone with a mobile device still has the option to take a snapshot of their mobile device's screen, thus permanently saving the information that should've been destroyed.
Furthermore, a variety of third-party apps allow Snapchat users to record the screen and avoid the destruction of data.
In fact, these very issues were mentioned in a complaint against Snapchat submitted to the FTC in 2014. The gist of this claim was that while Snapcaht promised snaps that delete themselves after a predetermined number of seconds, there were still ways to get around that and access content which should've been deleted completely.
Snapchat now allows you to customize some of your privacy settings, but its permissions are still very intrusive.
The long list includes access to almost every part of your device, including your microphone, camera, GPS location, and image gallery.
You can't block Snapchat from knowing your location.
Even if your device has geo-location turned off, Snapchat will determine it based on the network to which you're connected.
So your only course of action if you're not interested in sharing your location with Snapchat is using a VPN.
So, what can you customize?
Well, you can limit your stories to your friends only or to a custom-defined audience.
Making sure you don't share anything to everyone is a great starting point.
After you work this out you can proceed to limiting the users who can send you snaps, contact you, and see you in Quick Add, also under the Settings screen.
From the Settings, you can also access all the legal documentation if that sort of thing interests you, and you can clear all your conversation and cache.
It's worth mentioning that the ads you see on Snapchat are tailored for you by default, based on information from Snapchat's ad partners.
You can turn it off, but then you'll simply see ads based on your activity on Snapchat.
The feature is called "Snap Audience Match"
To sum up:
If you think that all your snaps evaporate after some time, think again!
Using screenshots, third-party apps, and some Snapchat features, your friends can save your snaps indefinitely.
Make sure you keep control over your private information by thinking twice before sharing anything online.
Having mentioned the popular Instagram and Snapchat, I feel that it's imperative to discuss additional social apps which are widely used, even if not as much as the aforementioned two apps.
Apps such as Kik, Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, and Line all have their own privacy and security settings you should look into, but the most important advice I can give you is this:
Different mobile apps, not only social ones, request different permissions when you install them.
Some of them are extremely intrusive and you must grant them access to your location, gallery folders, phone's camera, microphone, phone number, contact list, and other sensitive information.
In most cases, these permissions are necessary for the app to function properly but you have to ask yourself before you install it:
Do I really need it, and am I willing to expose this or that information about myself to the company behind this app?
Social media isn't going anywhere and privacy concerns remain entwined in the fabric of social networking.
So what did we learn in this social media privacy guide?
Discipline: before you share anything about yourself, ask yourself if you really need to share this thought, picture or video, and if you know who you are sharing it with.
Awareness: learn how to control your privacy settings and block social networks and apps from misusing your personal information as much as possible.
Control: always make sure your privacy configuration reflects your current needs.
Your data is in your hands and you're in control of it up to the moment you share it online.
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Co-writer: Vlad Zhelezniak
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