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Security & Privacy

A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Kids’ Privacy on Social Media

Posted on January 26th, 2015 by

social media privacy

If your kids use social media, as many kids do, you may be worried about protecting their privacy. Teenagers may be a bit unconcerned about such things, and may not care who reads their Twitter or Facebook posts, or who sees their photos on Instagram or Snapchat. As a parent, you know how important it is to keep your kids’ online life out of the public domain, as much as possible.

It’s a good idea for parents to explain to their children why this is important, and help them choose the right settings to protect their privacy. Kids can always go back and change the settings, of course; you can’t lock their settings to prevent them from making changes. But if you have a serious conversation with your children about privacy, you can work together with them to apply the appropriate settings, and help them understand why those settings are important.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to adjust privacy settings for the most popular social media apps and sites, so you can help your children protect themselves.

Facebook

While Facebook isn’t as popular with kids anymore—too many parents and adults are there—plenty of teenagers still use it, and its privacy settings are among the most complex. To make matters worse, Facebook changes their privacy policy and settings often, so what you see today may be different next month.

To access Facebook’s privacy settings from the Settings page on the Web, go to https://www.facebook.com/settings/?tab=privacy. You’ll see a page that looks similar to the following:

Facebook privacy

To get to Facebook’s privacy settings in the Facebook app, first tap the “head-and-shoulders silhouette” button, then tap on the ellipsis (“…”), and then tap on “View Privacy Shortcuts.” Note that the interface in the app is quite different from what you’ll see on the Web.

Some of the main privacy settings to check include the following:

  • Who can see your future posts?
  • Who can send you friend requests?
  • Who can look you up using the email address you provided?
  • Who can look you up using the phone number you provided?
  • Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?

For all of these, the safest settings are “Friends” and “No.” Have a look at all of the Privacy settings and see which others you want to change.

Facebook also lets you block users. Click Blocking in the sidebar at the left; you can add names or emails of users to block, and you can block apps, app invites, and pages. Help your kids learn to do this if they get harassed on Facebook.

Twitter

Twitter has a handful of privacy options, including the ability to make an account private and to turn off locations for tweets. It’s a good idea to turn this latter feature off; otherwise anyone seeing your kids’ tweets will know, more or less, where they are.

Click on a user’s icon at the top of the Twitter window on the web, then choose Settings. Click Security and Privacy. You’ll see these options:

Twitter privacy

If you choose to protect tweets, your child will have to approve each person who requests to follow their account. This is a good way to help protect their online safety (although kids should be warned that stalkers may create fake accounts that look like their friends, or celebrities). You can head over to Twitter to learn more about protected tweets.

Instagram

Instagram is a fairly simple service that lets people share photos and videos. As such, its privacy options are mostly limited to who can send a user photos, and who can view their story.

In the Instagram app, tap the profile icon (at the bottom; the head-and-shoulders silhouette), and then tap Edit Your Profile. Scroll down a bit and toggle “Posts are Private” to ensure that only people your child has accepted as followers can view their photos and videos.

Instagram privacy

This help article on the Instagram website tells you more about keeping posts private.

Snapchat

Snapchat is a messaging app, but, like Twitter, much of what users share can be viewed by the public. You can go to the Settings screen—tap the gear icon at the top of the Feed screen—and adjust who can send a user snaps, and who can view their story.

Snapchat privacy

For the former, you can choose Everyone or My Friends, and for the latter, you have the same options, plus a Custom option, where you can choose specific friends who can view a user’s story. See the Snapchat website for more information.

Other ways to protect your kids online

Of course, when trying to keep your kids safe online, it’s important to use a layered approach; it’s best to not rely entirely on settings within social media sites and apps. Some additional ways you can keep your kids safe include the following:

  1. Intego X9 software boxesIf you use a Mac, we recommend that you check out Intego ContentBarrier parental control software, which is included with Intego’s Mac Premium Bundle X9—the leading security, privacy, and utility suite for Mac. You can check out its features and download a free trial, or buy it now.
     
  2. Choose a Web browser that protects your privacy. We’ve written detailed comparisons of desktop browsers (focused on Mac) as well as mobile browsers (focused on iPhone and iPad).
     
  3. Consider using a service like OpenDNS FamilyShield to help block inappropriate Web sites. You can either set it up on individual devices, or on your home router so all devices connected to your Wi-Fi network (including non-Mac devices) will have a layer of protection against sites in OpenDNS’s Pornography, Sexuality, Tasteless, and Proxy/Anonymizer categories. It’s a bit complicated to set up, so read their configuration instructions carefully if you think you might like to give it a try.

Keeping up to date on social media privacy

As I said above, social media services and websites change their privacy policy and settings from time to time. You need to keep up to date, and it’s a good idea to check each of these every few months to see if there have been major changes.

But the most important thing is to explain to your children why they need to ensure their privacy. Make sure they understand what can happen if other people see what they post on social media; not just now, but in the future, perhaps when they’re applying to college or looking for a job.

Parents, at what age do you allow your kids to start using social media? Do you know what social networks your kids use most often? And do you help them set appropriate privacy settings, or trust that they will do the right thing? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

Also: each week on the Intego Mac Podcast, Intego’s Mac security experts discuss the latest privacy and security news stories, and offer practical advice on getting the most out of your Apple devices. Be sure to follow the podcast to make sure you don’t miss any episodes.

Additionally, you can subscribe to our e-mail newsletter and keep an eye here on Mac Security Blog for the latest Apple security and privacy news. And don’t forget to follow Intego on your favorite social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

About Kirk McElhearn

Kirk McElhearn writes about Apple products and more on his blog Kirkville. He is co-host of the Intego Mac Podcast, as well as several other podcasts, and is a regular contributor to The Mac Security Blog, TidBITS, and several other websites and publications. Kirk has written more than two dozen books, including Take Control books about Apple's media apps, Scrivener, and LaunchBar. Follow him on Twitter at @mcelhearn. View all posts by Kirk McElhearn →