How to Manage Your Social Media Privacy Settings

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We share a wealth of information about ourselves on our social media platforms. We snap perfectly posed selfies, check in at happy hours, tweet at our friends, and announce the arrival of bouncing new babies. The benefits and joys of social media are numerous, but there are privacy risks to consider as well.

Social media users tend to overshare life details in order to feel connected to friends, family, and coworkers. But these private details can be used maliciously by cyberthieves to access sensitive accounts, create fraudulent identities, and compromise careers.

Teens and young adults can also experience the impact of oversharing. Sexting, cyberbullying, texting while driving, privacy concerns, and self-esteem issues are topics that need to be addressed and consistently monitored, and many parents admit to feeling ill-equipped when it comes to talking with their children about online sharing.

Below, the Center outlines steps that might help keep your most sensitive information safe on social media sites. Use these steps to help protect yourself and your loved ones online.

Facebook

Facebook, the largest and most popular social network, allows users to connect with friends, post status updates, "check in" to various locations, send private messages, join common interest groups, and upload photos. Users can also share personal information, like their birthdate, hometown, activities and political preferences, as well as "tag" (identify) themselves and others in uploaded photos. Facebook can be accessed online or through a mobile app.

It's important to note that certain information is always available to the public, including your name, profile picture, cover photo, gender, networks, username, and user ID.

Facebook has different privacy settings for many aspects of a user's social profile. Privacy settings for photos, status updates, friends' lists, and likes must all be adjusted individually.

The four general audience options are:

  • Public. This means anyone on or off Facebook.
  • Friends. Only your friends on Facebook can see this material.
  • Custom. This allows you to share or exclude content from select people and lists.
  • "Only me." No one but you can see these posts.

To keep your information as secure as possible from strangers, avoid any "public" settings.

Check your audience.

Before posting a status, see what your potential audience will be. You can adjust this setting in two places.

  • The first is under "Privacy Settings and Tools." Access this menu by finding the downward-pointing arrow in the top right corner. Choose "Settings," and then find "Privacy" on the left column. Here you can decide how public you want your posts to be.
  • The other is easier to access. Click in the "Update Status" field ("What's on your mind?"). When you do, you'll see a drop-down menu just to the left of the "post" button. You can, like before, choose how public you want your posts to be.
  • Remember, these settings are universal, not case-by-case. Once you change this status, it stays that way until you change it again.

For the most privacy, select "Friends" from these options to share your thoughts, links, and pictures with just your friends.

It's important to be mindful of the content you share. New babies, homes, and vacation photos are fun to pass around, but this information could compromise your identity with an enterprising cybercriminal. Remember, the fewer details you share online, the safer your information will be.

Manage your privacy settings.

By accessing that "Privacy Settings and Tools" panel you found above, you can control a wider range of your settings:

  • "Who can see my stuff?" The Center recommends selecting "Friends" to view future posts. The Center also suggests taking the time to review your Activity Log and your audience for past posts, to make sure old posts are also secure.
  • "Who can contact me?" For maximum security, we recommend selecting "Friends" or "Friends of Friends" for who can send you friend requests. In this section, you can also filter the messages you will receive in your Facebook inbox.
  • "Who can look me up?" In the last privacy section, users have the ability to filter who can find them by searching an email address and phone number. The Center recommends that you select the most restrictive option which is "Friends."

The last option in this panel is "Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?" The Center recommends selecting "No." Facebook notes that "If you turn off this setting, it may take a while for search engines to stop showing the link to your timeline in their results."

Guard your personal information.

Next, the Center suggests editing the personal information featured on your profile. While it is fun to share your high school, birthday, and hometown with your friends, this information is all considered PII, or personally identifying information. Paired with other information, these innocent facts could be used to compromise your bank accounts or even your identity. Consider sharing only the slightest amount of information with your social media followers.

In the navigation below your cover photo, select "About." There are seven sections that contain personal information, including "Places You've Lived" and "Life Events." In these sections, hover below each box of text to see editing options appear in blue. Make sure none of your personal information is public, and for maximum security, select "Only Me" for certain information.

You can also edit the privacy settings for your "Friend List." In the navigation menu below your cover photo, select "Friends." In the right hand corner of your friends list, select the "pen" tool, then select the option "Edit Privacy." You will now be able to control who can see your friends list and the people you are following. The Center recommends selecting "Friends" or "Only Me" for both sections. There is also a "Custom" option, from which you can choose to share select information with certain friends.

Manage your apps.

Consider examining which third-party applications have access to your Facebook profile. To view which apps you have previously approved, access the "Privacy Settings and Tools" panel you found above, and select "Apps" from the left-side bar navigation.

Facebook explains on this page that "On Facebook, your name, profile picture, cover photo, gender, networks, username, and user ID are always publicly available, including to apps. Apps also have access to your friends list and any information you choose to make public."

Facebook provides four setting options, as well as a list of all apps you have utilized. In your list of apps, you can edit each app's privacy by selecting the app and selecting the pen tool and then "Edit Settings." In these settings you have the option to change the visibility of your app use, along with the information that app collects from you. You can also remove all information collected by the app. Be sure to save your settings.

You can also block certain apps and event invites from specific individuals by selecting the "Blocking" tab from the left side menu under "Settings."

Control your own timeline.

Despite your best efforts to remain private, sometimes a friend's post will give away your location and personal information. Posts that friends tag you in appear in the News Feed, the search, and on your timeline. You can counter this by altering your "Timeline and Tagging" options under "Privacy Settings and Tools."

  • Enable the feature that allows you to review posts before they are published to your Timeline.
  • It is important to note that these updates from friends still appear in News Feed and search.

Even with all these privacy settings in place, it is important to understand that nothing on the Internet is truly private. Be mindful of the information you share, and the audience with whom it is shared.

Twitter

Twitter is the second largest social networking site in the U.S. and allows users to share 140-character updates, called "tweets," with their friends and followers. Tweets can also include links and photos. Twitter's default settings set your account to public, meaning your tweets and information can be viewed by anyone, even by non-Twitter users. There are some simple settings that can allow you to make your Twitter account private.

With a private account:

  • Only Twitter users approved by you can subscribe and see your tweets.
  • Any tweets previously made public will be hidden, and can only be viewed or search by approved followers.
  • Your tweets will also no longer appear in Google searches or be "retweetable."
  • Any @replies you send will not be seen, unless you send them to your approved followers.

To make your Twitter account private, click the wheel icon in the top right of your Twitter homepage and select "Settings" from the drop-down menu, then select "Security and Privacy" from the side-bar menu.

Under "Privacy," check the box "Protect my tweets."

You also have the ability to make some other security choices on this page. The Center recommends opting to receive login verifications requests to your phone, and require personal information to reset a password.

The Center also recommends allowing only select people to tag you in photos, and to avoid sharing the location of your tweets. To keep your location private, do not check the "Add a location to my Tweets" box. You can also delete your previous location information in this same area.

Afterward, be sure to hit the blue "Save changes" button at the bottom of the page.

Even with these privacy settings in place, it is important to understand that nothing on the Internet is truly private. Be mindful of the information you share, and the audience with whom it is shared.

Instagram

In 2012, Facebook acquired the image-driven app Instagram. This smartphone-based app allows users to upload photos and 15-second videos. Captions and comments are allowed, as well as private picture messaging.

By default, your profile and posts on the photo-sharing app can be seen by anyone. You can modify your privacy settings to ensure only approved followers can see your pictures.

To keep your photos private, tap "Edit Your Profile" next to your profile picture and turn on the "Posts are Private" setting. Be sure to save your changes.

Your photos will no longer be accessible to the masses or appear in public searches. Users wanting to connect with you on the app will need to send you a request—and receive your approval—before viewing your pictures and follower list.

Please remember that regardless of your privacy settings, any user will still be able to read your bio, and send a photo or video to you directly.

If you are brave enough to keep your Instagram feed public, the Center must warn you of one more risk. A phone's geo-location software helps pin every photo you take to a location. You may be inclined to show off your sightseeing adventures, but be wary of who can access this information (i.e. everyone).

Before you post a photo, you have the option to select "Add to Your Photo Map." The Center recommends not sharing this information. Be sure to make sure this option is switched to "Off."

If you want to remove geolocation data from previously posted photos, select the profile button on your bottom navigation menu and select the Photo Map tab on your profile page, then choose "Edit." Tap the grid option at the bottom of the screen and select which photos you want to delete from the map.

Even with these privacy settings in place, it is important to understand that nothing on the Internet is truly private. Be mindful of the information you share, and the audience with whom it is shared.

SnapChat

SnapChat allows users to take photos and videos, add text and drawings, and send these creations, called "Snaps," to a controlled list of contacts. Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their messages, usually between one and ten seconds, or for an unlimited time in a 24-hour period. After the allotted time, the messages are hidden from the recipient's device and deleted from Snapchat's servers.

By default, only users you have added as friends can send you Snaps. If an unknown Snapchatter tries to send you a Snap, you will receive a notification that they added you, but you will not receive the Snap unless you have approved them as a friend first.

There are two Snapchat privacy settings you can tweak for improved security. Privacy settings can be changed regarding who can send you Snaps, and who can view your "Stories."

  • "Who Can Send Me Snaps?" Here, you have two privacy options: "Everyone" and "My Friends." The Center suggests selecting "My Friends."
  • "Who Can View My Story?" Here, you have three privacy options: "Everyone," "My Friends," and "Custom." The Center suggests choosing "My Friends" or creating a custom list.

Even though these Snaps appear to be fleeting, it is important to understand that nothing on the Internet is truly private. Be mindful of the information you share, and the audience with whom it is shared.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is often regarded the most professional social platform, connecting people through their careers and digital resumes. People are unlikely to share pet photos or dinner plans, but instead use the platform to apply for jobs, announce a promotion, or endorse the skills of their co-workers.

While oversharing your career history could lead to tax fraud or social engineering, undersharing your job skills could affect your networking opportunities. Choose carefully which details you want to share with the world.

To explore LinkedIn's privacy settings, hover over your profile picture in the upper right hand corner. Select the "Privacy and Settings" option from the drop down menu.

You first have the ability to turn your activity broadcasts on or off. Choosing "on" will of course alert your connections to any changes in your profile. Linkedin warns, "You may want to turn this option off if you're looking for a job and don't want your present employer to see that you're updating your profile." However if you are looking for a job, and are not currently employed, it would be beneficial for your updates to appear for connections.

You can also control what people will see when you view their profile—you have the option to be visible or not. Using the default settings, your name, photo and headline will appear to anyone whose profile you view; you can, however, choose to be completely anonymous, or to reveal only limited information about yourself. Your settings may depend on your position, title, and career path.

Next, users can choose to share their list of connections with others. You can either share your networking list with first-degree connections or keep the list completely private. Depending on your job and security, choose the option that is best for your career.

Lastly, decide who can see your Linkedin profile picture. You can change your settings to make your photo visible to first-degree connections, your whole network, or anyone viewing your profile. For the best security, consider only letting first-degree connections see your picture.

Even with these privacy settings in place, it is important to understand that nothing on the Internet is truly private. Be mindful of the information you share, and the audience with whom it is shared.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a website and app that allows users to organize visual bookmarks, called "Pinning," and usually organized by theme or topic. You can follow friends from other social networks, or strangers whose content intrigues you.

Pinterest has some of the simplest and most straightforward privacy settings.

To prevent search engines from revealing your Pinterest profile, simply access "Settings" from under your name in the upper right hand corner. Switch "Search Privacy" from "No" to "Yes" and hit save.

For extra privacy, Pinterest suggests changing your name, or using secret boards that are visibleonly to you and select invited users. These private pins and boards do not appear anywhere else on the site.

Under "Profile" in your settings, the Center also recommends never listing your real location.

Even with these privacy settings in place, it is important to understand that nothing on the Internet is truly private. Be mindful of the information you share, and the audience with whom it is shared.

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