Social media for learning, teaching and research: Maintaining privacy


Privacy is a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; knowing how to protect it in the digital world is part of knowing how to use the internet and technology efficiently.

Search for yourself

Do a web search for yourself. Use a few different search engines and social media channels to search your own name. Take note of what appears and, if you are not happy with what you find then do what you can to remove this information.Credit+Score+-+Magnifying+Glass

  • If you have unused accounts on old sites, go back and delete them to remove your information from that site’s database.
  • If you haven't done already, try to find out what other people see when they search for you online

Be aware of what’s being shared Be aware that when you share a post, picture or video online, you may also be revealing information about others. Be thoughtful when and how you share information about others.

Ways to maintain your privacy

Privacy and personal data

Major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) track your searches to make their results as relevant as possible to you. While this can sometimes be useful, it means that there are no 'standard search results' anymore and means people may get very different results when searching - leading to what is often called a 'filter bubble'. This filter bubble makes it very difficult to locate information which you don't agree with - something which is essential when researching for your studies.

Additionally, the information you use to search is bought by advertisers who use the information to target you. If you are concerned about privacy and the sharing of your personal data, then an alternative search engine such as DuckDuckGo could be the answer. It  commits to neither collect nor share personal information (see their privacy statement here).

Consider making your Tweets private.

By default, your Twitter account is set to public, which means it can be viewed by anyone and followed by any Twitter user. If you make your Twitter private, only approved Twitter users can subscribe to and view your tweets.

Once you make your tweets private:

  • Other users will need to make a request to follow you, and you will need to approve all requests.
  • Your tweets will only be visible to approved followers.
  • Other users will be unable to retweet you.
  • Your tweets will not appear in any Google searches, and will only appear in Twitter searches conducted by your approved followers.
  • Any @replies you send will not be seen, unless you send them to your approved followers. For example, if you tweet a celebrity they will not be able to see it, as you have not approved them to follow you.
  • Anything you tweeted while your account was public will now become private, and will only be viewable or searchable by your approved followers.
  • You will only be able to share permanent links to your tweets with your approved followers.

Disable activity broadcasts

Whenever you update your profile, LinkedIn broadcasts this activity to your connections. If you're beginning a new job hunt and don't want your current employer to see your latest activities, LinkedIn lets you mute your activity broadcasts so your changes are kept private.

To turn off your LinkedIn activity broadcasts, go to your Privacy & Settings page. Click "Sharing Profile Edits." This option is found in the Privacy tab at the top of the page. Then slide the option to No.

Consider browsing LinkedIn anonymously

Every time you browse a LinkedIn member's profile, that person receives an alert with details about who's looking.

While not in the spirit of LinkedIn, if you prefer to remain anonymous, change this setting. Navigate to your Privacy & Settings page and click "Profilel Viewing Options," under the Privacy  tab.

You can choose to have your name and headline displayed, agree to anonymous profile characteristics such as industry and title, or choose to remain completely anonymous. When you've made your selection, click Save changes.

Select who can see your activity feed to determine who sees the actions you’ve taken on LinkedIn. We recommend using “your connections” since they are the only people or groups you’ve linked with.

Customise your public profile

In the Privacy and Settings section, under Privacy you should see an option that says “Edit your public profile.” Click on that. On the far right side of the page, you’ll see a sidebar where you can customize your public profile. These settings control what others can find out about you or your company. This includes searches on sites like Google and Yahoo.

You can determine which options you want people to be able to see when looking for you. We recommend making your profile public, but restricting the information you’re broadcasting. Select “Basics” for example if you only want people to see your name industry, location, and number of recommendations. From there it’s up to you to decide how much you want to share.


Lock down your privacy settings. Click the padlock icon in the top-right corner of the page and select Privacy Settings. Here you can set who can see your posts, how people can look you up, and if you want search engines to show your profile. If you want to stay as private as possible, limit everything to just your Friends, and then remove any friends from your list that you don’t want to share with.

Disable location-based posting. Many social networks, such as Facebook, allow you to include the location you are at when you make a post. These locations are then saved to a database. Avoid sharing your location unless it is critical to your post that you share where you are.

Choose whether advertisers contact your social circle When you like an advert your friends are notified, increasing the reach of the advertisers into your social circle. If you want to prevent this, in account settings, click on Privacy and select No-one for the question "Who can see your social actions paired with adverts".

Change the privacy setting for your photo feed

Turn on “Private Mode,” which blocks your Instagram photo feed from everyone except your hand-picked “followers.

Remove photos from Instagram’s photo map

While it can be useful to track your travels abroad you may not want to provide so much detail about your home address. Before sharing a photo on Instagram, make sure the “Add to your Photo Map” setting is switched off.

Check exactly how Instagram is sharing your snapshots on Facebook

Instagram makes it easy to share your latest photos with your Facebook friends; however, it's not always immediately obvious how these are being shared. To check, in Facebook click the Privacy Shortcuts,  select Privacy Checkup, then click the blue Next Steps button. Find Instagram in the “Your Apps” section), then check its privacy setting.

Since Snapchat was hacked in 2014 it has improved the wording of its privacy policy to make it more transparent about the type of data it collects. However, It is still worth remembering:

  • Users can easily take a screenshot of anything sent to them  - so consider the embarrassment factor before sending
  • To set up your account to only receive snaps from friends
  • You can block users who send inappropriate messages

WhatsApp seems to be one of the most secure social media services there is; however, now it has been bought by Facebook it is wise to pay attention, as always, to your privacy.

By default, WhatsApp will automatically set your privacy settings to allow any WhatsApp user to view your Read Receipts, last seen, profile photo and status. If you do have concerns you can alter who sees these.

To change these settings, simply go to WhatsApp > Menu Button > Settings > Account > Privacy.

If you uncheck Read Receipts, you will not send Read Receipts. You will also not be able to see others' Read Receipts.

Top five tips for maintaining your online privacy

1. Change your search engine to DuckDuckGo or similar.

2. Clear your browser's cache regularly to remove information about your previously visited sites.

3. Examine your privacy settings on each social media service regularly, and make sure they are set according to your individual preferences.

4. Be courteous online - if you would not like something sharing about you then do not do the same to others

5. Nothing is ever 100% secure. If something seems too good to be true or feels 'off' then trust your judgement.

Use websites securely

Only provide personal information on sites protected by HTTPS.

This is the secure form of the standard HTTP address, and data transferred to and from HTTPS websites is encrypted.

Most secure sites will automatically load the HTTPS version of their website when you visit, but you can force it to load on all supported websites by using a browser plugin such as HTTPS Everywhere for Firefox or Use HTTPS Options for Chrome.

Look for the padlock

The Site Identity button (a padlock) appears in your address bar when you visit a secure website. You can quickly find out if the connection to the website you are viewing is encrypted, and in some cases who owns the website.

This should help you avoid malicious websites that are trying to obtain your personal information.