Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×
Search
Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Safeguard Your Privacy on Popular Social Media Platforms

How to find the tools on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok

Fictitious privacy and account setting dialog box.
GETTY IMAGES

Social media is wonderful for staying connected, sharing interests and reading news.

But it can also put your safety at risk because you’re divulging personal information online. This could endanger your privacy and make you vulnerable to fraudulent attacks and identity theft.

member card

AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

An estimated 82 percent of the U.S. population, or roughly 223 million people, had a social media profile in 2021, according to a survey from Edison Research and Triton Digital. Chances are you’re one of them.

Facebook and Instagram, both owned by Meta, are two of the more popular services. But video-centric TikTok is the fastest growing platform in the U.S., with more than 80 million active users.

Even though logging into the app and website is free, Facebook users learned in 2018 that they do pay a cost. The scandal in which employees of London–based consulting firm Cambridge Analytica collected data from tens of millions of Facebook users and their friends shined a spotlight on how much personal data we’re sharing, what’s being done with it and what companies might not disclose to users until too late.

Perhaps as part of its mea culpa, Facebook simplified its privacy settings, and somewhat locked down access to what third-party apps can do with your data. At the very least, this breach resulted in some positive changes. Facebook also paid a $5 billion fine to the Federal Trade Commission.

No matter which social media platforms you enjoy, here are a few suggestions to minimize exposure of your private information through Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Privacy Checkup on Facebook

Privacy Checkup guides you through some of your privacy and security settings on Facebook, so you can review your choices to help make sure that you’re sharing only with people you want.

4 ways to silence a Facebook user

Your ability to shut off contact with people on Facebook can take escalating forms.

Unfollow. Keeps friends’ posts out of your timeline without letting them know.

Take a break. Allows you to choose a combination of options to keep a friend’s posts off your timeline, restrict which of your posts the person sees, and change access to past posts.

Unfriend. Removes you from another person’s friends list, so that person also won’t see your posts in their timeline. But that person can find your Profile page and look at your public posts.

Block. Cuts off all access to you and from you to another person, Facebook friend or not. You become invisible to one other.

• On a computer, click the downward triangle symbol ▼ at the top right of your screen. Choose Settings & privacy | Privacy Checkup.

• On an iPhone or iPad, tap the three horizontal lines  at the lower right | the Settings gear icon  | Privacy Checkup.

• On an Android device, tap the three horizontal lines ≡ at the top right | the Settings gear icon  | Privacy Checkup.

In Who Can See What You Share, you can review and change your own profile information and decide who to share it with. This may include your email address, phone number, birthday, hometown and relationship status.

You can determine who sees your posts. Your options include Public for anyone on Facebook, Friends for your Facebook friends, Friends except... for omitting posts to some friends, Specific friends for sharing post with only certain friends and Only me for your eyes only. You also have a Custom option to include and exclude specific people or lists of people that you’ve created.

The checkup also shows settings for apps you’ve logged into with Facebook, such as Pinterest, Spotify and Yelp. You can edit who sees each one and delete any you don’t want anymore.

Power over Instagram posts

You can control who can see your Instagram posts, who can comment on your posts and who follows you. You can also limit how others interact with your Instagram account. Your Instagram account is public by default, but you can choose to make your account private at any time.

membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

• On a computer, click your photo at the top right, followed by Settings | Privacy and Security.

• On a mobile device, tap the photo icon at the bottom right, three horizontal lines ≡ at the top right | Settings | Privacy.

Now you can switch between a public or private account; showing activity status, which allows others to see when you were last active or if you are currently active; permitting people to share your story as messages; allowing comments and more.

Tweak TikTok settings

• On a computer, go to TikTok.com, click your profile at the top right corner of the page, followed by Settings | Privacy.

See more Entertainment offers >

• On a mobile device, open the TikTok app, click Profile in the bottom right, followed by the three horizontal lines  near the top. Now select Settings and privacy.

Here you can manage your account, including whether it’s public or private; decide whether to synchronize your contacts or Facebook friends; choose personalized or randomized advertisements; determine if you want to download your data; and allow for comments or not.

7 pieces of good advice across all platforms

1. Read the privacy policyWhile breaches can still happen, ensure you understand what the company is collecting about you and how that information is being used. If you’re not comfortable, don’t use the service.

2. Ask not to be tracked. Apple gives you an option to not have an app track you, something that’s not available on Windows or Android devices. If you opt out, these app companies won’t know where you’ve gone before and after your social media visit. You will still see advertisements, but they won’t be tied to your searches and website visits.

3. Use strong passwords. Don’t just use long and strong passwords with eight or more letters, numbers, symbols, etc. Keep away from your kids’ and pets’ names. And don’t use the same password for more than one site or app.

4. Opt for two-factor authentication. Social media sites and apps should give you the option to prove it’s really you with not just your password but also a onetime code sent to your mobile device that must be typed in.

5. Think twice before posting. Do you really need to show vacation photos before you’ve returned home, advertising that your place is empty? And if you’re upset about a topic on the news, take a deep breath and make sure you don’t write something you’ll regret later.

6. Avoid scams. Know that scam artists come after your money in many ways, so don’t be naive when you receive a message about an “urgent” opportunity. Just delete, block and report.

7. Close unused accounts and delete your data. Don’t just deactivate your account. Your information may remain on a company’s servers, so ask the social media platform to delete your data.

Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies.

membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.