Twitter privacy settings to change now

Your tweets may be public, but you can still have more privacy on the social media service

Twitter/iStock/Washington Post illustration
Twitter/iStock/Washington Post illustration (Twitter and iStock/Washington Post illustration)

Privacy on Twitter is different from other places. For most people, the point of the social media service is to post things publicly for the world to see, like, comment and retweet.

However, just because your thoughts on “The Bachelorette” are available to strangers doesn’t mean things like your demographic info should be handed over to advertisers. Furthermore, a whistleblower’s allegations that the company misled regulators about lax security and spam, should raise concerns about user privacy on the platform.

You can have some modicum of privacy on the service, including limiting what you inadvertently share and what Twitter itself is sharing about you.

If you do only one thing

Lock down ad settings

Like most other social media companies, Twitter is free because it makes its money on advertising and access to data about its hundreds of millions of users. There are a few quick settings you can change to limit some of this activity, but it doesn’t stop it completely.

For all of these ad changes, start on Twitter.com, go to Settings and privacy → Privacy and safety, and scroll down to the “Data sharing and off-Twitter activity” section. Some settings are opt-in, meaning they may already be turned off when you open them.

  • Click on Ad Preferences and uncheck the box for Personalized ads. This limits what kind of info Twitter can use to show you personalized ads, but it will still show you things based on what you post and like. You can click on the Interests option and uncheck all the topics Twitter thinks you’re into or are known for. But know that this will take you some time to go through the long list.
  • Click on Off-Twitter Activity and uncheck the box for “Allow use of where you see Twitter content across the Web” and “Personalize based on your inferred identity.” These will cut down on how much Twitter uses information other things you do online.
  • Click on Data Sharing with Business Partners and uncheck the box for “Allow additional information sharing with business partners.”

If you’re still concerned about privacy

Don’t share your location

Twitter does not add your location to tweets or images by default, but you should still check these settings. Location isn’t just a privacy issue. On Twitter, any public details could be used to harass, stalk or otherwise target you.

  • Go to Settings and privacy→ Privacy and safety, and scroll down to the “Data sharing and off-Twitter activity” section. Click on Location Information and make sure the box for “Personalize based on places you’ve been” is not checked.
  • Under Precise location, make sure this feature is toggled off.

Limit what your audience sees

Twitter has settings you can use to make your posts more private, all the time or when the mood strikes.

  • Turning on the option to protect tweets will make it so only current followers can see past or new posts. Go to Settings → Privacy and safety → Audience and tagging and toggle off “Protect your tweets.”
  • There’s no way to stop people from tagging you in tweets, but you can prevent them from tagging you in images. In Settings → Privacy and safety →Audience and Tagging, click on Photo Tagging and toggle off the top option. If you leave it on, you can change the setting to allow only people you follow to tag you.
  • If you ever hop on Twitter Spaces (the company’s audio chatroom feature), your followers can see which rooms you are in. Go to Settings → Privacy and safety and click on Spaces. Turn off the toggle for “Allow followers to see which Spaces you’re listening to.”

If you want to be extra cautious

Twitter will let your tweets stay up forever, leaving a trail of clues about who you are, what you like, and fireable jokes you’ve made going back years. Most people forget about their own old posts when they think about privacy, but if you’re worried, deleting old tweets is great advice. (“Never tweet” is always an excellent option, as well.)

  • We recommend downloading a backup of all your old tweets first. Go to Settings → Your Account → Download an Archive of your Data and follow the instructions.
  • Twitter doesn’t have a built-in feature for deleting on a schedule, so you’ll need a third-party tool. We recommend Tweetdelete.net. You can set it to delete your tweets older than a week to a year, or start fresh and delete them all at once.
  • Your likes — the history of every tweet you’ve hit the “like” or heart icon on — can also reveal a lot about you. Use the same website to delete your past likes.

I tried to read all my app privacy policies. It was 1 million words.

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