Key Privacy Settings to Secure Your Social Media ProfilesWith the recent news of Cambridge Analytica secretly influencing political campaigns around the world using data it gathered from 50 million people on Facebook, the hashtag #deletefacebook is picking up steam, encouraging people to get rid of their Facebook profiles to protect their personal information. If you’re not ready to completely quit social media just yet, though, there are ways you can configure your privacy settings to make sure you’re giving out the least possible amount of data while keeping your profile up. By tweaking some options on the social media platforms you use, as well as taking advantage of some outside help, you can severely limit the amount of information that companies and individuals can harvest from you. Keep reading to learn more about how you can tighten up your social media security.

Privacy settings to limit what you share

If you use social media at all, it’s likely that social media companies have more data on you than you expect. Even if you haven’t posted information such as your phone number, address or relationship status, social media companies can infer a lot about you based on your friends, data they gather from your phone and trackers they have embedded in other websites. For instance, Facebook builds ‘shadow profiles‘ of its users’ friends, even ones who aren’t on Facebook, to make its friend suggestion feature scarily accurate. One key piece of data you can control, though, is your mobile location data. Most smartphones track your location and keep logs of where you’ve been, and social media apps can read that data to pinpoint where you are at all times. Turning off location services on your phone, as well as deleting your location history (which you can do on both Android and iOS devices), deprives the apps of that information.

However, many social media companies don’t just follow your physical location; they also follow you around to different websites online using tracking cookies. Even when you aren’t actively using a social media site, its cookies could be logging what other sites you’re looking at in order to give you more personalized ads or discover what you like to build a behavioral model of you. There are a couple ways to block these persistent trackers, the first of which is to use a browser or a browser add-on that does the job for you. On desktop, some ad blockers such as uBlock Origin and Ghostery will also block trackers in addition to ads, and on mobile, downloading a privacy-focused browser like Mozilla Firefox Focus can accomplish the same thing. If you have a Windows computer and you’re more tech-savvy, you can alternatively add the URLs for various social media trackers directly into your Windows host file to block them. This website can show you how, and it has a list for every known tracker for Facebook, as well as its sub-companies Instagram and WhatsApp.

As a final precaution, you may also want to set your social media profiles to private, so only your friends can see your posts. While these privacy settings won’t keep your information any more secure from the social media companies themselves, they will help protect you against individuals trying to cyberstalk you. In order to see your profile details and posts, they’ll have to become friends with you or follow you first, which gives you an extra measure of regulation over your security.

Privacy settings to limit what social media companies share

With social media platforms, the data that the social media companies collect isn’t the only thing you have to worry about. You also should consider who those social media companies are sharing your data with. Some platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, allow outside companies to develop apps integrated into the social media site, and downloading those apps can give the companies behind them access to tons of personal information. For example, this image taken by Twitter user Dani Friedland shows the extensive information collected by the Facebook app iPhoto, which includes a user’s work history, interests and political views. You may also notice that about half of the permissions iPhoto requires are for your friends’ information. Third-party apps that your friends download can gather data on you, without notifying you or asking for your consent. In fact, Cambridge Analytica used this permission to gather its trove of data on 50 million people, with a Facebook app that only 270,000 people used.

You can’t stop third-party apps your friends download or use from gathering data on you unless you unfriend them or delete your account, but you can stop the third-party apps linked to your account. On Facebook, you can do this by going to the Apps section of your Facebook settings, scroll to the Apps, Websites and Plugins option near the bottom, edit, and turn off third-party API access. For Instagram, go to your profile settings, Authorized Applications, and then revoke access to all third-party apps.

Another step to keep your data from third-party companies is to limit your ad targeting. Social media platforms often use the data they gather on you to let other companies target you with ads based on your interests. Some platforms will let you disable this with a simple on/off switch, often located in a setting called Ad Preferences or something similar, but others will give you more fine control over exactly what information you share with advertisers and how they can gather your data.

Know the difference between deleting and deactivating

If you eventually decide to pull the plug on one or more of your social media profiles, make sure you understand the difference between deleting your account and merely deactivating it. Account deletion permanently erases your profile, making it inaccessible and unreadable (though many platforms preserve the comments you left on other people’s posts), while deactivation just temporarily freezes your account. Deactivation is good for when you want a break from social media or you’re being harassed, but to really get rid of your profile and leave as little of a trace as possible, you’ll have to delete it. For Facebook, you can delete your account by following this link. If you choose to delete your Facebook, you may also want to consider deleting your Instagram and WhatsApp accounts, as both platforms are owned by Facebook and feed data to it.

Unfortunately, using social media means giving up some control over your personal information, but knowing how to configure your privacy settings can help you cut down on how much data you’re giving out, as well as who can see it. To learn more about making sure your personal life stays personal, follow our privacy blog.