ONLINE KNOWHOW Guard your privacy online

Who is watching what you do online?
With all the news articles this week about how our data on social media is being “scraped” without our permission and used for commercial and political purposes that do not seem to be in the best interests of democracy, Julie Sullivan shares a few tips about what you can do to protect yourself online—as much as possible.

The obvious first suggestion is to protect yourself by not using social media. However, despite the fact that #DeleteFacebook has been trending on Twitter, it appears that most Facebook users are too addicted to give it up. Most of us use it to stay connected to family or friends, especially far away, and Facebook Groups can be very useful professionally. Personally, I wouldn’t have passed my MA without them, and several of my jobs have come out of Facebook Groups. A lot of SCWBI members enjoy their Facebook Groups and get real support from their Facebook Friends.

Unfortunately, even people who resolutely refuse to join Facebook are being tracked elsewhere. Facebook has tracked non-users across the internet, and Google keeps data on every search you do

So what can you do? If you are not ready to give up on much of the internet, you might be fatalistic about it and just say, like some people, that the information is already out there and it’s no use to ‘bolt the barn door once the horse is gone’. But at least fix your settings so that you know you’ve done what you can. Companies don't really want you to change these settings; they make money from selling your information, so they make the settings hard to find and the default settings tend to be in favour of less or no privacy. 


Go to the little question mark at the top right (above) and choose Privacy Shortcuts, then See more settings (at the bottom), then Ads (on the left). You will see Your Interests and Your Information (which leads to About You and Your Categories). See what is there and uncheck if you don’t want Facebook to target you for these categories. If you haven’t done this before, you will be shocked by how much Facebook has about you (and remember, this is just the stuff they don’t mind telling you that they collect). 

This is what mine looks like after I deleted and unchecked everything I could find. Yours will look very different unless you've done that too.

Facebook’s Privacy Checkup (also accessible through the little question mark at the top right of the page) is also a good idea if you’ve never gone through your Facebook Privacy settings. Facebook has shown it has little concern for users’ privacy. 

Mozilla/Firefox has a new Facebook Container add-on that will prevent Facebook from tracking you across the web. Basically, it keeps Facebook 'fenced in' and everything else you do online is outside the fence.  

Two more things are important. You can set the privacy of every post on Facebook, with the little box to the left of the dark blue Postbox. The drop-down menu will look like this: 

Don't use the Public setting unless you want the whole world to be able to see your post and the comments on it. But remember, these settings only apply to what can be seen by other Facebook users. Of course, the company itself can see everything you post.

The second thing is that Facebook's software logs every word you post, scanning for keywords, and analyses every photograph with facial recognition software. You can turn off facial recognition, and limit the audience for each post, but the company itself has access to everything and has been busily selling it to literally millions of advertisers. For example, advertisers can choose to show their ads only to teenagers who feel 'insecure and worthless'Nothing on Facebook is really private.

Facebook also logs every Like and emoji you use. It has allowed 'scientists' to deliberately manipulate the news feed of hundreds of thousands of users to produce negative or positive emotions. Be aware of this when you post a comment.
A critical report on the 'scientific experiment' of deliberate manipulation of Facebook users' emotions


This is too vast a subject to go into here. At least Google does not seem to have sold data that affects elections, but it collects even more information about you than Facebook does. Here is an article that will help you monitor your Google privacy settings. 

A little bird told them


What about Twitter? Here, too, you need to check your privacy and ‘personalisation’ settings. ‘Personalisation’ in this context means ads targeted to your specific behaviour. Go to your profile avatar at the top right of the page, then click on Settings and privacy. Here, there are many settings you should look at. If you don’t want personalisation, you will have to change that both on your computer and on your mobile.

Did you know that when you copy and paste a link online, it can tell the world where you found it? You can strip this away by removing everything in the link after the '#' or the '?'

For instance, here I deliberately clicked on a story I saw on Facebook. 

This tells the advertiser that you saw this on Facebook or Twitter.

Here are the same links with the tracking stripped away: 

Want to know if a Twitter account is a real person? Try

There is much more to learn about how to protect yourself online...but at a certain point, you do need to get on writing or illustrating! 

Julie Sullivan is a writer and SCBWI volunteer.

Follow Julie @webwight

Picture credits

Ostrich: Anefo/J.D. Noske, Netherlands National Archive Image Bank
Goodbye: Gerd Altmann, Pixabay
Google spying: on Vimeo
Twitter bird: Artsy Bee, Pixabay

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.