For millions of Americans, social media has become a source of news, entertainment, and information, as well as a way to stay in touch with friends and family.

But it has also, unfortunately, collected a trove of personal information about its users that is sought after by data brokers, people finder websites, and other companies that use this data to target consumers with advertising. All prominent social media platforms claim to care about privacy, but none have backed that assertion with measures that provide effective protection.

That being the case, users must take control of their online activity and take advantage of these platforms' resources.


After Facebook replaced MySpace as the dominant social media platform, it has since evolved into one primarily used by people over 40, who tend to be wealthier than the teens who migrated to Instagram and TikTok.

They are also taxpayers, a fact not lost on those who collect data. Three of the largest tax preparers – H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer, have been accused of sending “extraordinarily sensitive” information on tens of millions of taxpayers to Facebook parent company Meta over at least two years. And unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about that.

To make the most of Facebook’s privacy settings, limit the number of people who can view your posts and the information in your profile. Update your password regularly to lower the possibility of your account being hacked, and turn on alerts that will let you know if someone else logs into your account. Follow these same steps for using Facebook Messenger. Also, never use your Facebook login to access content on other websites.

These are common sense steps that will help, but they won’t stop the platform from monetizing your privacy. Facebook has already paid a $5 billion (yes, billion) fine for sharing information “obtained for security purposes” with advertisers.

You can find Facebook’s “Privacy Checkup” page here

X (Twitter)

As with Facebook, Twitter has also paid a huge fine ($150 million) for illegally using peoples' data to help sell targeted advertisements.

Were they trying to put you in danger? Probably not – Twitter had the private data of more than 140 million users, and to the company, the phone number of a judge or police officer was no different than that of a waiter or a bank teller. But they never stopped to consider how in some situations that information could lead to harassment, vandalism, and violence.

When Twitter makes your phone number available to advertisers, it is only a matter of time before that content is picked up elsewhere, and “people-finder” sites connect that phone number to an address, and to who lives there – including the number of children and their ages. And then they have a profile they can sell to anyone who wants it.

The platform’s Help Center proudly proclaims, “We want you to have the resources you need to manage your privacy experience on X.” But the guidance provided pertains only to a user’s ad preferences, direct messages, and followers. Limit these to the extent you can.

The most important safeguard you can use on this platform is restricting access to your phone number and email address. This page offers directions on how to adjust your discoverability privacy settings to do so.


Instagram, now owned by Facebook's parent company Meta, was launched as a “fun and quirky” (their words) way to share your life with friends through pictures. It’s a way to share photos instantly across multiple platforms and improve the appearance of photos taken by mobile devices. More than two billion people use Instagram.

The platform’s “Managing Your Privacy Settings” page offers directions on how to limit access to your account by setting it to “private,” and turning off your Activity Status.


From the moment TikTok began its ascent into a social media craze, questions were raised about the security of the data it receives from users, and how that data is being used in TikTok’s country of origin, China. At one time that resulted in government threats to ban the app.

But Forbes published an article alleging an even greater breach of privacy - TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, planned to use the app to monitor the location of American citizens.

The company’s response was the standard, “We only do this to better create targeted advertising, etc.” excuse. However, the material Forbes reviewed indicates that ByteDance's Internal Audit team was planning to use location information to surveil individual American citizens.

TikTok does collect your personal information. We know this to be true because all social media platforms are doing the same. And even if your data isn’t going to Beijing, it might end up on any number of people-finder websites.

Once again, your first line of defense is a visit to the platform’s privacy settings page, where you can switch your account to private. Also, be sure to turn off location settings. If you don’t, the platform collects your approximate location information based on your device or network information, such as your SIM card and IP address. You can also restrict who can view your videos and your profile.


While the corporate focus of LinkedIn makes it distinctive from other social media platforms, it operates in much the same way – it’s just that here users share resumes and work histories instead of memes and cat photos. More than 700 million users worldwide rely on LinkedIn for professional networking and career building.

It may be a more “serious” platform, but it is just as vulnerable as others to breaches, and nearly as dismissive of user privacy concerns. In 2021, hackers acquired the data of 700 million LinkedIn accounts, including email addresses, passwords, physical addresses, and phone numbers.

By default, LinkedIn shares certain details that you might want to keep private. However, you can access some data controls on this page. It isn’t necessary to include your phone number, address, or personal email on the site, so we recommend you not do so.

That said, LinkedIn does encourage users to verify their identity with a government ID, saying that it’ll help with profile visibility for recruiters. It may even require some users to submit one to access their account. We don't recommend participating in this feature.


Ten million people signed up for this platform in its first seven hours after launch, and it has now topped 130 million users in less than one year. However, none of these users are located in the 27 countries that comprise the European Union, because the EU has strict data privacy rules, and as of now Threads does not conform to them.

Sign up for Threads and you give that platform permission to collect a wide range of personal information. They can obtain your browsing and search history. They can pinpoint your location. They can find out about anything you purchase online. They can get a list of your contacts. They can even access your financial and health information.

However, the platform does offer similar restrictions as those previously mentioned. Click the “settings” tab and then the “privacy” tab to make your profile private, and limit who can see your content.

Additional Privacy Suggestions

Social media sites don’t have to remove your information since you provided it freely. So, in addition to taking control of your privacy settings, here are some additional tips to safeguard your experience on these platforms:

  • Never post your address (or allow your children to) on social media sites.
  • Don’t provide your mobile phone or post it anywhere. This is one of the simplest ways for companies to find you. Get a VoIP number and forward it to your cell phone.
  • Sign up for online privacy protection. If your home address and other information becomes accessible from data brokers and people finder sites, a privacy protection provider can contact the site to request that it be removed. Some states allow you to do this on your own, but it’s a process that must be repeated regularly for each of the hundreds of sites that collect and share information.

Sara Darby

Director of Marketing

Sara manages the strategic direction and implementation for the marketing department for 360Civic / IronWall360. Sara graduated from California State University, Fullerton, earning a B.A. in Busine... Read more

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