Clients often ask how their addresses and phone numbers become so readily available online. We tell them that process often starts when they give our information to a site that violates their trust. That is why we always recommend limiting the amount of information you give to anyone, off- or online.

How does it happen? Look no further than the recent legal settlement between Twitter and the US government; Twitter agreed to pay a $150 million fine for illegally using peoples' personal data over six years to help sell targeted advertisements.

And that’s not the first time social media has been caught violating your trust. Facebook paid a $5 billion (yes, billion) fine for sharing information “obtained for security purposes” with advertisers.

What does it say about the value of your private information that companies are willing to risk fines this enormous to profit from it? Or that such fines may not be enough to dissuade them from doing it again? 

Were they trying to put you in danger? Probably not – Twitter was in possession of 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 bank teller, or unemployed actor. But they never stopped to consider how in some situations that information could lead to harassment, vandalism, and violence - or they just didn’t care.

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.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

There are ways that you can continue to use social media and visit your favorite websites without compromising your privacy. Privacy controls and settings are offered on every social media platform. But most users pay little attention to them. By customizing your privacy settings, you can eliminate much of the risk associated with your favorite platforms.

You may also wish to use a VPN (virtual private network), an encrypted tunnel that can be used to link your computer or phone to the internet. Find out more here.

Our eBook offers more tips on how to stay safer online, and to protect your privacy and that of your family.

Get the eBook


Ron Zayas

CEO & Chief Strategist

Ron brings decades of expertise in marketing, advertising and e-commerce strategies to 360Civic. There is not one aspect of any client project that is not enhanced through his experience, insight, and... Read more

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