How to change your Facebook, Google and Twitter settings to keep your data private
Any internet user leaves themselves open to having their data harvested
While handing over some data is unavoidable if you want to use a service, you can limit what you give away. Photograph: iStock
We’ve all done it: set up an account on social media or for a new device in our home and just clicked through all the settings without really reading them. It’s the quickest way to get things done, and who really has the time to spend reading through each option and figuring out the implications of a yes or no answer?
But tempting as it may be, that approach is leaving us open to having our personal data harvested for commercial means. And while handing over some data is unavoidable if you want to use a service, you can limit what you give away by changing a few settings.
The social media network had a pretty rough 2018 when it came to user privacy. From Cambridge Analytica to bugs in the system that exposed private data of millions of users, there have been plenty of reasons for users to delete their accounts.
Have a peek at your privacy settings. On a desktop, go to Settings>Privacy; on the app, it’s under Settings & Privacy>Settings.
There are some things you might want to consider changing. Top of the list: your friends list and its visibility. If you set it to Only Me, people will only be able to see mutual friends rather than have access to your full friends list.
It might also be worth your while hiding your interests and pages you like from public view – or even friends.
Remember when Facebook tried to roll out facial recognition the first time? Well it’s back. But if you don’t want the social network to recognise if you are in a photo or video, you can disable it. Go to Settings>Face Recognition and choose No. It means that you won’t be alerted when somebody uploads that unflattering footage of you from New Year’s Eve, but that’s a chance you may be willing to take.
Speaking of posts that namecheck you, you can also stop people from polluting your Timeline with tagged posts. Under Settings go to Timeline and Tagging, and choose to review posts you are tagged in. That doesn’t mean they won’t appear on others’ timelines, news feed or search, just that they won’t hit your Timeline until you give them the thumbs up. On the same screen, you can also choose who can see posts you are tagged in – you can even set this to Only Me if you feel like it – and hide comments containing certain words from your Timeline too.
If you use the Facebook app, there’s a chance that you are giving over location information to the social network. You can view your location history – and, more importantly, delete it – by choosing the Location tab under settings and View your location history. You’ll need your password to access this page.
And of course, there are advertising preferences. Did you ever wonder why you get ads for weddings and baby services? How about weight loss products? It could be as simple as your age profile, but sometimes it feels a bit invasive.
To limit what information can be used about you to sell ads, go to Settings>Ads (Settings & Privacy>Settings>Ad Preferences on the app) and you can remove things from your interests.
Scroll down to Ad Settings and you can choose to disable ads based on data from partners, and hide any ads based on your social interactions, such as liking a specific page.
Did you mistakenly let Twitter mine your contacts for connections when you first set up the account? You can undo that – to a certain extent, anyway.
Click on your profile picture and then select Settings & Privacy>Privacy & Safety>Discoverability & contacts. Scroll down to Contacts, and make sure Sync address book contacts is disabled. That will stop Twitter from updating your contacts lists periodically. You can also choose to remove all contacts you’ve previously uploaded.
While you’re there, you can also choose to disable the option to let other people find you by phone number or email address.
That’s not all. You can also stop Twitter tracking your precise location. Go to Settings & Privacy>Privacy & Safety>Location. You’ll see an option for Precise Location. If this is enabled, Twitter says it will collect, store and use your precise location to show you local content, ads and recommendations. If you’d rather not hand this information over, you can disable this.
Then scroll down to Personalisation and Data. Under this setting, you’ll find a whole heap of settings that give Twitter permission to use your personal data and share with its business partners. You can switch the whole lot off with one button – Personalisation and data – or pick and choose. One I’d recommend turning off is Personalised ads, which uses your Twitter activity to target advertising to you. You can also stop Twitter personalising data across devices you use to log in, and using your location information to tailor content and ads.
Scroll a bit further down and you can knock off the setting that gives Twitter permission to share your data with its business partners – including private information such as your interests.
You’ll still see ads, but Twitter won’t be supplying any of your information that will allow advertisers to target you according to your age, location, and so on.
Google collects a lot of information on your activities as you make your way around the web. If you have a Google account that syncs all your activity across desktop, mobile and other devices, it can build up into a terrifyingly accurate picture of all your daily movements. (For more information, readhere.)
All your activity across Google accounts can be viewed on one page here: myactivity.google.com. Sign into your Google account and go to that link. It covers everything from articles you’ve read online while signed into Google to your location activity can be viewed here. And it can also be deleted here too.
When you are suitably creeped out, go to https://myaccount.google.com/activitycontrols to decide what Google can and can’t store about you.
First up: web and app activity. Switch this off and you are telling Google that you don’t want it to saves your activity on Google sites and apps, including location. You can only pause it though, which makes it sound like a temporary thing. And there’s a warning: just because you tell Google pause it, the tech firm says it may “temporarily” use information from recent searches to improve the quality of the active search session.
You can do the same thing for Voice and Audio activity, location history and and YouTube activity – all with their own caveats. If you use a smart speaker or Google Assistant on your phone, those voice files are an eye opener.
Ad personalisation can also be turned off on Google. Go to adssettings.google.com to see exactly what Google is basing its targeted ads on, and to disable the whole set up.