Social media is pretty fun and harmless at face value. That said, whatever you do, say, and share can and will be used against you. Cyberstalkers, cybercriminals, employers, and advertisers all prey on your online activity. This is why social media is the biggest threat to your digital privacy.
Still, you can’t go rogue and just stop using social platforms, so I came up with a handy guide to help you stay safe on social media. I’ve outlined tips on what you can do to minimize data collection on all your devices, prevent your sensitive information from leaking, and keep cybercriminals at bay.
Disclaimer: None of these tips work if you publicly share sensitive information.
Share this infographic with your friends on social media!
1. Turn OFF Smartphone Data Collection
Social media apps can collect data from everything you do on and with your smartphone, including the places you go, the apps you use, face recognition information, and more. If you use social apps on mobile devices, please, for the love of everything private, disable off-platform collection and any other app permissions that mAkE yOuR eXpErieNce beTteR.
Here’s how you do it for Facebook’s app:
- Click the menu button (three lines, it looks like a stack of pancakes).
- Click Settings & privacy.
- Select Settings.
- Scroll down to Permissions.
- Disable all permissions.
It takes a few minutes to go through the steps. Hey, if I can do anything to prevent social networks from profiting off my data, I think that’s worth spending a minute or two.
You gotta jump through some hoops if you want Facebook to stop invading your privacy, even for a little bit.
The process is similar for Twitter:
- Click on your profile to open the menu.
- Go to Settings & Privacy.
- Select Privacy & Safety.
Twitter may be more straightforward, but it still collects a lot of data.
For Instagram, it’s different. The app records things using your camera or microphone. To stop Instagram from recording everything you do, you have to go to your phone’s settings (Settings, then Apps or App Management) and directly turn off any permissions the app has on your device. While you’re at it, you might want to do the same for the others.
Instagram is Facebook’s new way of collecting everything.
Want to post something without giving back permission? Use your browser to access the platform’s mobile site. It’s not as easy to use as the app, but it’s a lot more private.
It’s not just social media sites that collect data, either. Some ISPs collect your information, and the only way to prevent this is to encrypt your online activity with a VPN.
2. Turn OFF Browser Data Collection
Social platforms have separate settings for the data they collect through their sites, so you essentially have to repeat step #1 in your browser. Going through the list, you’d be shocked at what data the platform collects or allows. You’ll be able to disable data collection at a deeper level, like blocking people from being able to look you up based on your phone number. The privacy and settings aren’t easy to get to, but the print screen below should help you out.
If you’re getting anxious, you’re entitled to it by now!
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Social networks collect data you didn’t even think of. It doesn’t stop at what you like, post, or share but includes things like the networks you connect to, the device you’re using, your contacts, and more. It’s terrifying! Not in a cute, Halloween kind of way.
Here’s a handy table of things you should consider disabling
|What to Disable on Facebook||What to Disable on Twitter||What to Disable on Instagram|
|🗙 Face recognition||🗙 Off-Twitter activity||🗙 Activity status|
|🗙 Location history||🗙 Location information||🗙 Automatically add photos|
|🗙 Search engine lookup||🗙 Phone number lookup||🗙 Cookies (from their company & others)|
|🗙 E-mail address lookup||🗙 E-mail address lookup||✔ Account privacy (the only one we enable)|
|🗙 Phone number lookup||🗙 Data sharing with business partner||–|
|🗙 Cookies (optional & from other companies)||🗙 Personalized ads||–|
3. Use Facebook Container (PC/Mac)
On desktops, you can prevent Facebook and Instagram from collecting off-site data, like what other sites you’ve visited, by using Facebook Container. It’s an official plugin for the Firefox browser, and it’s really good at blocking Facebook’s tracking. Sadly, it’s only available for Firefox.
Of course, this does mean you have to use Firefox instead of Chrome or Safari to browse through social media. I think that’s a small price to pay for additional privacy.
If you can’t let go of your Chrome addons, but still want a safer browser, check out tip #4.
4. Upgrade Your Browser
Trade up your current browser for a faster, more private browser. Firefox may be better than Chrome, but the Chromium-based CyberGhost Private Browser is even more convenient. With CyberGhost VPN’s browser, you can go online ad or tracker-free. Don’t worry! All your Chrome extensions can tag along.
The browser wipes any data traces once you end your session, and you get to surf the web without advertisers looking over your shoulder. For complete anonymity and protection from surveillance, you should use the Private Browser with the CyberGhost VPN app.
CG’s Private Browser is fast, private, and it looks cool. What more can you want?
5. Don’t Log in Using Your Social Media Accounts on Other Sites
Don’t use your Facebook login (or any other social) details to sign in to third-party sites. I wholeheartedly agree that it’s convenient, but you’re giving both parties a free pass to collect, use, and share your data across multiple sites.
Cybercriminals used to rely on this third-party login method to access your social media emails and accounts. If possible, always use a different email for your social networks than you do for everything else.
You wouldn’t want cybercriminals to post Eat-Pray-Love messages for you. Just kidding! They’d sooner eat, pray on, and love your credit card balance.
6. Use Strong & Unique Passwords
I know, I know – it’s this boring tip again. Passwords are the first thing standing between your data and cybercriminals. The stronger your passwords are, the more likely they won’t get cracked.
To prevent one account hack from becoming a complete privacy breach, you need different passwords for all your social media sites. Always opt for multi-factor authentication when available. A strong password has:
- Lower and upper case letters.
The trouble with these Vf*@$,eM2F8g type of passwords is that nobody can remember them. The last time I changed my password for Yahoo Messenger was the last time I ever logged in. The new pass was so strong… I forgot it and couldn’t log in later. It’s fine. Some things are better left in 2009.
The easy way out is to use a password manager that safely stores all your strong passwords, so you’ll never get locked out. The CyberGhost Password Manager is compatible with all major browsers, and you can take it with you everywhere you go.
7. Use Trusted Devices
If you don’t own a device, don’t use it to access any personal accounts. Most companies and administrators closely monitor your activity on their computers and networks. If you absolutely need to get on social media on a device that’s not yours, follow these steps to minimize exposure:
- Use a private or incognito browser session, instead of an app.
- Delete all browsing, search, and download history once you’re done.
As a general rule, it’s best not to input sensitive login information on untrusted computers – at all.
8. Protect Your Trusted Devices
Just because you own a device doesn’t mean it’s safe from hacking or surveillance. Malware and viruses can still leak your social networking credentials.
To prevent this, keep your software up-to-date, use a reputable antivirus, and a reliable anti-malware solution. If all of that’s difficult to remember, CyberGhost VPN has an all-in-one privacy and security solution.
Make sure your computers and devices have a good sign-in option, like a password or PIN. With the right software, a malicious third party needs just one minute on your devices to fully compromise your privacy. Then your social media login is the last thing you’ll be worrying about.
On Windows, you can easily do this by looking up “Sign-in options” with the built-in search tool.
You’d be surprised how many people don’t have a sign-in password on their devices.
Research shows that smartphone passwords and PINs are a lot safer than patterns. I know they aren’t as cool, but what can you do?
9. Once Posted, Always Posted
Think twice before posting something. Your approach should be: whatever you post online stays online. While most social platforms give you the option to delete your posts and comments, this doesn’t mean the information gets wiped from the company’s servers.
Some platforms can take screenshots of what you say or even use archiving services to keep track of and save anything you do. If something can come back to haunt you later, odds are it will.
Not even the most secure VPN servers can prevent Facebook from harvesting and storing your data. The best way to keep your private information safe on social networks is to keep it off-platform.
10. Don’t Share Everything
Pretty self-explanatory. If you don’t want random strangers to come knocking on your door, don’t share stuff with your location turned on.
Better yet, if you don’t feel comfortable with cybercriminals knowing things about you, like your license plate number or where you do your shopping, don’t share it. Social media data breaches are super common.
If something happens to you and you feel like sharing, it’s almost always better to reach out to a friend IRL.
IRL friends share calories in bad times and make good times much better.
11. Manage Your Friends
Speaking of friends, accepting (or sending) requests from random profiles isn’t always a good idea. You don’t need to follow up on every recommendation or get to a million friends. Heck, you don’t even know if that’s a real person on the other end.
Curate your friends list regularly – it’s a healthy habit for your digital privacy. Unfriend shady profiles and people you don’t trust. You’ll be surprised at how much better social media is when you’re more selective with who you connect with.
12. Don’t Click Links
Links in posts, private messages, emails, or ads can lead to phishing scams and malware. If a link looks suspicious, it probably is. When you want to follow up on an article, try to type it in a search engine and get to it that way.
If I had a dollar for every time the “Nigerian prince” needed my help, I’d have enough money to help him recover his fortune and share it with me. Fake products, financial relief, and romance scams are also on the rise. I guess the Nigerian prince is looking for a partner now.
While these clearly scream scam, targeted phishing scams are that much harder to recognize. It’s always a good idea to double (maybe even triple) check whenever:
- Employees want to change their bank accounts.
- You get highly urgent invoices for services you didn’t contract.
- People are asking you for money to help someone close to you who’s now in distress and can’t talk.
I was recently targeted by one of these phishing scams via email. For that I want to say:
Dear cybercriminal who pretended to be me,
If you’re reading this, I hope your socks are eternally wet.
All the best,
13. Meeting Social Media Friends IRL
Be extra careful when meeting social media friends in real life.
Before anything, try to have a video call with whoever you want to meet. Just to verify they aren’t someone else. Be very suspicious of people who try to get you to do things you don’t want. If it doesn’t feel right, you’re under no obligation to keep talking.
If someone keeps bothering you after you’ve blocked them and made it clear you want no contact, you should report their behavior. Depending on how bad it is, don’t rule out talking to local authorities.
I bet you never thought keeping your personal information to yourself would be that hard, did you? Unfortunately, the reality of social media companies is that they make money off things you’d rather not share (if you had a choice to begin with).
Bottom Line: Privacy Isn’t a Zero-Sum Game
Time and again, big tech has proven that profit – not privacy – comes first. We need social media, but this doesn’t mean we should give up our privacy to use it. These 13 steps will help you limit the data social media platforms collect on you and stay safe online.
We can’t stop here. We need to hold data companies accountable for what they do with our information. We need to take back control of our privacy. Data is power, and who better to wield that power than the person it belongs to?
Farmer Brandt wants his privacy back.
What Are the Risks of Using Social Media?
The worst threats to personal security that exist on social media sites come from other people. These threats aren’t inherent to social networking, but the platforms’ invasion of privacy, and the fact that everyone is encouraged to share exacerbate such threats.
Social media exposes you to personal privacy breaches, cyberbullying, identity theft, offensive content, online grooming (for children), and scams and phishing attacks. Becoming aware of these threats and taking steps to achieve online privacy goes a long way towards minimizing them.
Is Social Media Bad for Security?
Yes. Even when you properly manage your privacy settings, social media collects information from you, your device, and your online activity. If social media platforms suffer a data breach, malicious third parties can steal all this information.
Social media is even worse for corporate security than individuals since cybercriminals prefer to target them. As a company, it’s essential to have a solid social media policy and have extra security in place, like using a VPN to avoid surveillance.
To limit social media’s impact on your security, you should be very prudent with the information you share and take every precaution to protect your online identity.
Is Social Media Safe for 12-year-olds?
Social media isn’t completely safe for anyone, much less for 12-year-olds. That’s also true of literally any place in real life. Fortunately, parents can take precautions to help their children stay safe when using social networks.
Studies show that most children between 10 and 12 use at least one social network. The best thing parents can do is discuss online safety with their children to help them use social media sites safely and responsibly.
Blocking social media isn’t an effective approach, so parents should seek to limit exposure to unwanted content. You could use parental control software, guidelines for safe social media use, and guidelines for acceptable internet use.
What Are the Benefits of Using Social Media?
Social networks give you a safe environment to share experiences and interact with friends, acquaintances, or strangers.
You can connect, learn, and become more visible all with the help of social media. The digital world is a big part of our reality, so much so that it’s blurred the boundaries between your professional and personal self.
While you enjoy all the great things about social media, don’t forget about the risks it poses to your digital security and that it’s healthy to take a break once in a while.
Is Online Shopping Safe?
Yes. Though many people fall prey to online fraud and identity theft, the truth is that online shopping is overall safer than going into a brick-and-mortar store. It’s more difficult to get a hold of your credit card details online than in real life.
Here’s a quick list that’ll help you stay safe while shopping online:
- Carefully research new vendors.
- Never purchase anything on an unsecured site – the website address must start with “https://”, NOT “http://”.
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi for online purchases unless you have a VPN.
- Pay with credit cards because you can cancel them any time.
- Err on the side of caution and postpone your purchase if a site or link looks sketchy.