Retaining Privacy in a Social Media world

Update 28th March 2018: Facebook redesigned a number of it’s privacy control pages two days after I posted the below. Sods law. I haven’t had chance yet to see if any of the steps require changing, so please bear with me.

I’ve been wanting to publish a post like this for a long time now. Indeed the original draft of this post started on the 25th July 2017, and became one of those boring posts that I just didn’t have the enthusiasm to finish, despite it being somewhat important. Of course there are already hundreds of articles on the internet that go over this kind of stuff already anyway, so it became less urgent for me. Then the whole Cambridge Analytica stuff hit the headlines and I realised I’d missed a golden opportunity to plug a post that could already have been published.

Indeed, Facebook is not going to go away. As much as I wish it would. Too many of my friends and family use it, they will continue to use it probably with complete disregard to the Cambridge Analytica fall out. They will still do stupid quizzes, they will still like loads of stupid pages, they will still play games, and they will still use it as their primary communication tool, which is the main reason it makes it almost impossible for me to leave. Plus there’s this blog page which needs to have a presence on Facebook, although ironically, I’m going to tell you to stop liking things in a moment anyway.

I also want to make this post not just about Facebook. Twitter, Instagram etc, you should apply all the same rules. These services may be free, but there is actually a price. You, You are the product, and it’s you they want to sell by harvesting as much information about you so adverts can be specifically targeted at you based on your gender, age, location and interests.

Remember the Internet rarely forgets. Google indexes pretty much everything. Anything you post online could be archived for years to come, you don’t want anything coming back to haunt you, or potentially getting in the way of your career prospects. Even if you think you’ve deleted something, someone could have took screenshots to use against you later down the line. So always think before you press the post button.

To start with we’ll take a bigger look at Facebook, after all it is the biggest of the social media giants and also incorporates Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram within it’s portfolio of products.

  • Third Party Applications
    This is the one that’s causing all the concern regarding Cambridge Analytica. If you’ve ever logged in to almost anything  with the ‘log in with Facebook’ option, eg, Spotify, Tinder, Bumble,Eventbrite, Candy Crush, Instagram or even WordPress then you’ll be affected as you’ve allowed access to your personal data. Unless you’ve opted out, these apps will continue to have access to almost all of your personal information from your Facebook profile, even if you no longer use them.
  • How to limit or revoke the access:
    Step 1 – In Facebook on desktop, click the drop-down menu, then Settings. On mobile, hit the three horizontal line icon then Account Settings.
    Step 2 – Click Apps and then ‘Logged in with Facebook’ to view all the apps that have access to your data via Facebook.
    Step 3 – Select the pencil on desktop, or the arrow on mobile, to view the exact data you’re sharing with each app.
    Step 4 – Click the blue ticks to deselect your personal information.
    Step 5 – Once you’ve clicked the pencil/arrow to review the data you’re sharing with the app as above, click ‘Report App’ at the bottom and select ‘I want to send my own message to the developer’.
    Step 6 –  You’ll be able to send a short message, something like: “Hello, I would like all of my personal data to be removed from your database, as I am about to revoke access moving forward.”
    Step 7 – To then revoke access completely, click the cross next to the app.In theory, if you want to use free Wi-Fi, play a game or quiz but don’t want anyone to hold your data, you can accept the terms, then request all your data is deleted. Note Twitter has a similar 3rd party app tools, and I’d encourage you to review that too if you have a Twitter account.
  • Review all of your data held by Facebook
    You’re able to view all of your personal data held by Facebook by selecting Settings, General, and then clicking ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’. This is a great way to see what exactly is out there and you may decide to delete certain aspects of the information you have previously shared.
  • How to share as little data as possible while keeping your Facebook account active.
    If like me, simply deleting your Facebook account is more of a pain in the bottom than it would be to keep it open due to using it to keep in touch with friends and family, which is it’s main purpose after all then take into account the following:
    Keep your profile sparse. Make a number of personal details such as your phone number and date of birth only visible to yourself.
    There’s no requirement to list where you live, or what Schools, Colleges and Universities you attended or even where you work.
    Stop liking brands, music artists, movies, sports, venues, teams etc. This serves no purpose other than to flood your feed with advertisements for those products, and no shit, for other products to target you because you already like Coca-Cola! So stop giving advertisers more ammunition to target you. Unless it’s imperative you find out about something via Facebook from a certain something, unlike absolutely everything you’ve liked! The same can be said for Twitter, although ads on Twitter are not as intrusive (yet) it’s again how they target you, you follow all these brands such as Coca-Cola then it’s quite possible, that Pepsi will want to target you for an advert. It’s not rocket science. If you only follow people you know or people that are not essentially a ‘product’ then you’re less likely to get targeted with specific adverts. In the same vain as above, stop checking into places, if you check into concert venues, restaurants then again you’re giving away vital information about the type of things you enjoy and this builds a profile. Stop saying you’re ‘interested’ in or ‘going to’ events. The same rule can apply to sharing a post, or retweeting a celebrity or product.
    In fact, don’t even grant the social media apps access to your location. If you’re posting your location on Twitter for example, on the official Twitter app it may say ‘Birmingham’ but did you know with some third party Twitter apps you can actually click on that information and it will drop a pin on the exact location of where you made that tweet. Tweet from home a lot and odds are someone can very easily soon find out where you live! There was once a z list celebrity being mean to people on Twitter and I noticed she was tweeting her location. I told her it might be wise to turn the feature off and surprise surprise she came back at me with a narky response saying ‘no one is going to track me down just because it says ‘East Midlands’ to which I then replied with screen shots of where she probably lived, where her parents probably lived, the gym she was tweeting from and from the restaurants she had been too. Within minutes she’d turned the feature off and begged me to delete the pictures! Which I duly did, but I bet someone with prying eyes had already screenshot them! You could say this was irresponsible of me, and it was, and anyone else I would probably have told via private message and have done to others in the past, but it was one of those moments where you felt said person needed to be knocked down a perch or two! Which brings me to another point. Just be nice on social media, because there will always be someone that will go to the effort to find something you’ve said previously or find a picture of you to attempt to embarrass you.
    If possible, stop using the mobile apps full stop, and use the web versions. I’ve already discussed the many advantages to this on an existing post about smartphone batteries. If it’s important you get ‘notifications’ you can always turn on email alerts instead, but I like the fact I no longer get notifications on my phone from Facebook and Twitter. I check the apps when I want to check them, not because they are demanding my attention. In fact I have notifications turned off for practically everything apart from phone calls and messages. Get your life back and stop letting other apps distract you.
  • Keep on top of your privacy settings
    And I don’t just mean who can see what out of public and your friends. Although it’s a good job to give those settings a once over every once in a while too. However did you know Facebook tracks you when you’re not even on the site. How else do you think they know about that pair of boots you looked at just 30 minutes ago, and now it’s appearing in your feed as an advert. To control this, back on the settings page, select ads on the left, and then I’d advise you set your ad settings as below:

    I’d advise then going through all the other ad sections and deleting or selecting no to anything that already has your information, you may be surprised at what you find, this is what mine looked like before!! This page is really the holy grail in preventing targeted adverts. The problem is, you need to visit it every so often just like your standard privacy settings, so I’d start drilling this into your routine also whenever you give your Facebook privacy settings the once over.

  • Third Party tools to opt out of advertising:
    Visit the Digital Advertising Alliance let it do it’s thing and then when given the option, choose to opt out from the ones you no longer wish to receive adverts from, or even track you. The easy option is to just blanket select all. This only takes effect in the browser you’re currently using. So you’ll need to do this in each browser you use, and on each device you use, and again when you get a new device or format your PC and start again.
    All modern browsers also support a do not track option. Visit Do Not Track to find instructions of how to enable it in your browser.
    Lastly, install an add-on for your browser such as ghostry, which will do it’s best to block adverts and trackers.


The above is general tips on how to keep your information private from companies, but don’t forget your friends too. Hit the privacy section of the settings part of Facebook and all your other social media platforms to control what your friends, and the public can see about you too. This is the settings that was originally drilled into us to check every so often and now is a good a time as any to also review those once again. Give the timeline and tagging section a go over too. E.g. no one can automatically tag me into any comments/status updates or pictures, without me approving it first.

More tips for all Social Media platforms:

  • Unfriend/unfollow people you don’t keep in touch with, yes it might be nice to have 3000+ friends on facebook, most of which may be people you went to school/college or University with, but if you don’t keep in touch with them in real life, bin them off facebook too. Who knows how many of these people may actually have taken up petty crime, and might be simply waiting for that picture you post in the airport lounge, giving away you won’t be home for several days!
  • If you use Twitter/Instagram and allow your profiles to be public, be conservative about what you post, and when you post it. Don’t post those pictures of you at the airport, and try to keep holiday snaps to a mimimum, ideally, don’t post them at all until you’re back home.
  • Turn off location services for social media apps, or turn it off completely on your device.
  • Turn off the setting in your photos on your smartphone that saves your location, if you post the original picture, that metadata gets retained and again, people can easily find out where the picture was taken, which may give away your home address.
  • Don’t post information that may give away your home address, such as a picture of your new door!
  • Post pictures after you’ve left the location you took it at. Should you develop a stalker problem, you’ll already be long gone from the venue when someone else sees your post just seconds after you post it, and attempts to hunt you down!
  • Don’t use your real name where possible (facebook allows pages as well as personal accounts)
  • Use two factor authentication. Either receive an SMS with a code to log into your account, or use one of the authenticator apps. This way if someone steals your password, unless they have your phone as well, it will be impossible for them to log into your account.


Sources and some plagiarism from the following:
Headline image: quka/


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