How to secure your personal data on social networks

Worried about handing over personal data via apps you use in social networks like Facebook and Twitter? Take control with this guide.

Tom Davenport
Tom Davenport spent several years flirting with music production before admitting he preferred writing about technology online. He once performed in a Superbowl commercial, but you'll never find it online. Tom is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.
Tom Davenport
3 min read

Signing into apps and websites is faster than ever with the one-click login wonders of Twitter and Facebook. But do you really want all your private information to be accessible by third-party apps, like your messages or friends' contact details?

Fortunately, there's a way to pull back some of those permissions you gave away on a whim. Social networks usually have a settings page that lists all the apps with access to your data, where you can choose to block those you no longer use.

MyPermissions makes this process even easier, with direct links to the app settings on sites including Facebook, Twitter and Google. Read on for tips on deciding which apps need chucking into your digital bin.

Getting started with MyPermissions

How to secure your personal data on social networks - my permissions

Once you click a logo to land on its settings page, scan the list of apps for anything you don't recognise. Consider it a red flag if it's not familiar. You might have tried some apps but didn't stick with them -- there's no harm in binning those too.

Most platforms have a simple 'revoke access' button, like Twitter and Google:

How to secure your personal data on social networks - Google accounts
How to secure your personal data on social networks - Google accounts

Facebook is a little more detailed and helps guide your digital pruning by displaying the date that each app last used your data.

Look out for apps that were used more than six months ago -- they're the first to consider deleting.

How to secure your personal data on social networks - app settings

As you can see, iPhoto hasn't connected to my Facebook for months. So how do I weigh up whether or not to keep it? In this case, I've decided that I'll probably post from iPhoto to Facebook in the future, so it's a keeper.

If you can't think of a clear reason like this to retain an app, it helps to ask yourself whether you trust the company behind it. If you're not sure, it could be worth deleting. It's easy to sign up again if you make a mistake.

Editing app access to your data

Now to refine the access the remaining apps have to your data. Click 'Edit' on the right to see exactly what you're giving away and you'll be presented with this screen:

How to secure your personal data on social networks - flipboard

1. These are the basic requirements that the app needs to function. If you're unhappy with anything here, your only option is to remove the app. In this example, I might wonder why Flipboard wants access to my photos and groups -- but then I'd realise that Flipboard does this to show me new pictures from my friends on its lovely iPad app.

2. You can delete any of these with the 'X' on the right without completely blocking the app from your Facebook data, but you might reduce its functionality. Again, weigh up whether you're happy for a company to see this sort of information and whether it enhances your experience of their app.

3. Sometimes you don't want to broadcast all your app activity to the world. If so, click the box on the right and specify who can see your activity. Publishing to the whole world might be to your taste, but if not, reel it back to just your friends. If it's a personal app, perhaps to do with weight loss, you can choose to hide it from everyone but you.

Don't get paranoid

MyPermissions links to 12 different sites and it's similar fare on each. Do you use the app? Do you trust the company?

It's important not to be too paranoid while working through these app permissions. Most companies are respectful of the data they use and the law insists they take sensible precautions to keep it safe. But in an age where people share more on social networks than they might with their doctor, it's worth getting a grip on your data before robots rise up and blackmail us with photos from sixth form.

Bookmark MyPermissions.org and make a note to check on your app permissions every few months. Meanwhile, add your own security tips to the comments or on our Facebook page.