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7 ways you can protect your privacy on social media

For most of us, social media is an inseparable part of daily life: it’s where we stay connected to friends and family, catch up on the news, and entertain ourselves.

While you might not think twice about sharing photos of your next holiday getaway or taking that fun personality quiz, you’d be surprised by how just one tiny piece of information can be used to steal more of your personal information.

To avoid getting hacked, scammed, or threatened by potential criminals online and offline, here are seven easy ways you can protect your personal information on social media.

1. Avoid or limit sharing your personal information

While everyone might appear to be a friend on Facebook, mundane details like your date of birth, where you work, and your current city could be used by bad actors to target you and track down your location.

Before revealing anything, think about how that information might be used against you if it were to fall into the wrong hands.

2. Don’t share account information

Most social media platforms will warn you to never share details like your email and password, but it’s easy for anyone to fall into social engineering traps that capture our curiosity. For example, you might have received a DM with a link to some “wild” photos or videos of you at a party, only to be taken to a fake login page where you enter your username and password to access them.

As a general rule, never enter or share your social media account details with anyone or on external websites and forms unless you’re absolutely sure the party asking has a legitimate reason for wanting to know.

3. Check the content of your posts before publishing

Posting a selfie at work or in the airport seems harmless, but eagle-eyed scammers could spy details you didn’t intend to share, like your work address, flight details or credit card number. This kind of background information can be used to determine where you are as well as where you won’t be (e.g. at home with your valuable possessions) at a particular point in time.

Before hitting post, check for any details in your photos and status updates that could reveal your personal information and whereabouts.

4. Adjust your privacy settings

Social media is, after all, your space to express yourself, so another simple way you can protect your private life from people you don’t know is to increase your privacy settings.

On Facebook and LinkedIn, you can limit how much information on your profile is publicly available. Instagram and Twitter let you set your entire profile to “private” so that none of your posts or tweets are visible to people you haven’t approved as a follower.

5. Watch out for phishing scams

Phishing is a type of fraud where scammers pose as trusted institutions to trick you into sharing your personal information with them. Such scams circulate via email and social media, appearing increasingly sophisticated with every passing year, and difficult even for experienced internet users to spot.

In recent years, you might have seen them pop up as Facebook ads offering 80% off RayBans, or as Instagram comments suggesting you can make millions from a secret investment strategy.

To save yourself the click (and falling victim to a phishing scam) — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

6. Check if your location is being tracked

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow you to “check in” your current location and collect data about where your device was last recorded as active on the app. On Snapchat, if Location Tracking is on, friends can actually pinpoint your geographic location by exploring Snap Map and zooming in where your avatar was last “seen”.

While you may think you are safe with friends, it’s not worth the risk if bad actors get their hands on this information or pick up on any places you might routinely visit (such as a specific gym or restaurant).

To avoid these risks, be sure to turn off location tracking on each app and avoid using the “check in” feature on social media apps.

7. Follow data breaches in the news and update your passwords as soon as possible

Keeping tabs on social media data breaches sounds boring… until it isn’t. Imagine the horror of being locked out of your social media while hackers have the key to all of your personal messages, photos, friends lists, and other information you’ve shared with the platform.

As an added protective measure, we recommend changing your passwords as soon as you are notified of a data breach. This is especially important if you have the same password across all social media apps you use — a risky practice for this exact reason.

As fun and free-to-use social media apps are, it’s important to remember that these apps collect so much personal data about us, with fewer data security and privacy protections than they’d like us to believe.

Each of us have a responsibility over our privacy and the data we share online, which starts by understanding each of our app’s privacy settings and common schemes perpetuated by scammers.

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