Twitter privacy settings you need to change

Twitter collects a lot of data about you and even shares some information with third parties. Learn what privacy settings you need to change to protect yourself.

Björn GreifEditor

Like Facebook, which we covered in a previous post, Twitter tracks your browsing activity and uses the information collected about you for personalized ads. In one respect, it is even worse than the largest data collectors Google and Facebook: Twitter shares your data with third parties for advertising and marketing purposes. That’s why it is particularly important to adjust your privacy settings on Twitter.

To do so, first log into Twitter from your computer or launch the Twitter app on your mobile device. Click on your profile picture to open the menu and select “Settings and privacy” and then “Privacy and safety“. There you will find a list of all relevant privacy options, which we will explain below.

Like Google and Facebook, Twitter uses the data collected on its own and other sites to show you personalized ads. The more targeted ads are to your interests, the more successful they are and the more money Twitter can charge advertisers.

tracking and data sharingSolely based on what you look at on its network Twitter can build a detailed interest profile about you. If the option “Track where you see Twitter content across the web” is activated, it additionally considers your visits to third-party websites with integrated Twitter content (e.g., embedded tweets or tweet buttons).

According to Twitter, your web browsing history is never associated with your name, email address, phone number or Twitter handle and the data is deleted, obfuscated or aggregated after no longer than 30 days. The Privacy Policy also states: “We do not collect this data from browsers that we believe to be located in the European Union or EFTA States.” To be on the safe side, however, you should always deactivate the setting in the “Personalization and data” section under “Privacy and safety.”

Also uncheck “Share your data with Twitter’s business partners” to prevent Twitter from sharing non-public data, such as content you’ve seen and your interests, with third parties for advertising or marketing purposes. For example, Twitter might share that a mobile device identifier corresponds to a male user, aged 25-34. Twitter’s partners then may connect the device-level data to a user’s name, email, phone number, or other personal data based on other information in their possession. This way, they can build a detailed user profile.

Based on your Twitter profile and your online activity, Twitter automatically adds you to “audiences” that help advertisers to target potential customers. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to opt out of these audiences. But you can stop them from showing you interest-based ads on and off Twitter. To do so, go to “Privacy and safety” > “Personalization and data” and uncheck the box “Personalized ads.”

personalizationRight below you will find the options “Personalize based on your devices” and “Personalize based on places you’ve been.” You should disable these settings, too, to protect your privacy.

The personalization across devices allows Twitter to associate your account with browsers or devices other than those you use to log into Twitter (or to associate your logged-out device or browser with other devices or browsers). For example, if you visit websites with sports content on your laptop, Twitter may show you sports-related ads in its Android app.

If you’ve enabled location-based personalization, Twitter will use information, like where you signed up and your current location (only if location access is enabled), as well as information about other places you’ve been to show you personalized ads and content. If you don’t want that, you should turn off this option.

You should carefully consider whether your tweets should be visible to everyone or only to your current followers and people you approve in the future. By default, all your posts are public; anyone can view and interact with them. If you don’t want that, you can protect your tweets by enabling the corresponding option in the “Privacy and safety” menu.

protect your tweetsWhen you protect your tweets, only people you approve will be able to view what you tweet. You will receive a request when new people want to follow you, which you can approve or deny. That keeps spammers and other unwanted persons at bay. Additionally, your tweets will no longer appear in third-party search engines such as Google or Bing and will only be searchable on Twitter by you and your followers. Twitter explains the difference between public and protected tweets in detail in its Help Center.

You can also specify in the privacy settings whether and who can tag you in posted photos. You have the choice between “Anyone can tag you”, “Only people you follow can tag you” and “Off” (desktop: “Allow anyone to tag you in photos”, “Only allow people you follow to tag you in photos” and “Do not allow anyone to tag you in photos”).

discoverability and contactsUnder “Discoverability and contacts” (desktop: “Discoverability“) in the “Privacy and safety” menu, you can specify whether others can find you on Twitter by your email address and/or telephone number. In principle, these data are not publicly accessible on Twitter. However, if someone has your email address or phone number in their contacts, they may find your account when they upload those contacts to Twitter. Your account may also appear as a suggestion for others to follow if your email address or phone number is included in the contacts that others have uploaded.

If you turn off the settings that let others find you by your email address or phone number, Twitter will also not use your address book contacts (if you have chosen to upload them) to suggest your account to others. You can also turn off the Sync address book contacts setting under “Discoverability and contacts“.

precise locationTwitter allows you to add location information to your tweets. The “Precise location” feature is off by default and should remain disabled for privacy reasons. When you turn it on, you allow Twitter “to capture, store, and use your precise location, such as GPS information.” Twitter may then build detailed motion profiles about you.

You can also prohibit the Twitter app from accessing location information at a device level. On Android, open the “App permissions” in the apps settings and select “Location“. Then scroll down to the Twitter app and flip the switch. On iOS, go to “Settings” > “Privacy” > “Location Services“, search for the Twitter app, and deny location access.

Twitter lets you see the demographic, geographic and other ad-targeting data it has collected about you. On the app, scroll down to the bottom of the “Privacy and safety” page and tap “See your Twitter data” (desktop: “Settings and privacy” > “Your Twitter data”). Here, you can review and edit your profile information and data associated with your account. For example, you can edit the interests and audiences Twitter assumes about you. You can also view the apps you have connected to your Twitter account and revoke access for those you no longer use. Last but not least there’s an option to request the download of a machine-readable archive of your Twitter data.

However, even the strictest privacy settings do not prevent Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Co. from collecting a vast amount of information about you. Using tracking scripts placed on numerous websites, they can still monitor much of what you do online even if you don’t use any of their services. Therefore, you should additionally protect yourself with anti-tracking tools such as Ghostery or Cliqz, which are available for download free of charge.


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