Your favorite apps might be sharing too much about you. Here’s how to make sure they don’t.
Time for a much-needed privacy check.
In our modern age, you can’t be too careful when it comes to protecting your privacy online. That means knowing exactly what you’re sharing on the web, and with whom.
Even if you think you know what you’ve put out there and what you haven’t, it’s important to check once in a while. You might be posting out personal information without even realizing it.
And this information takes all sorts of forms—not just your idle thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, but also your Spotify playlists, YouTube uploads, fitness data, and more.
Your music playlists
Sharing a public playlist isn’t quite the same as handing over your online banking details, but you may not want everyone knowing your fondness for bubblegum pop or death metal.
All the popular music streaming services have an option to make your playlists public, which has its uses (like creating a mix for friends to enjoy), but you might have been making everything public without realizing it. That means anyone who happens across your profile will be able to see your taste in music (and that secret wedding compilation).
In the Spotify mobile app, tap Home, then the cog icon (top right), and View Profile to see your public playlists. Tap any playlist, then the three dots, followed by Make Secret to hide the playlist from your profile. To make sure new playlists are private by default, you’ll need to open Spotify on the desktop: Tap the arrow by your username (top right), then Settings, to find the Make my new playlists public toggle switch.
Other streaming services have similar options. In the YouTube Music mobile app, for instance, tap Library and Playlists, then pick a playlist and tap the pen icon to check if it’s public or private (and to change the setting). In the Apple Music app, go to Library and Playlists, then tap a playlist and choose Edit to find the Show on My Profile and in Search toggle switch.
Your YouTube videos
Inadvertently sharing videos online when you didn’t mean to is potentially more of a problem than public playlists—you might want to keep family videos with the kids private, for example.
Unless you’re posting these videos to social media (we’ll talk about that more in a moment), you’re probably hosting them on YouTube, where you’ve got three different privacy levels to pick from: public, private, and unlisted. These options appear whenever you choose to upload a new video to YouTube.
If your videos are public, anyone can see them, whether they have a YouTube account or not, and they’ll show up in YouTube and Google searches. Private videos are for you and anyone you specifically invite to view them (using their Google email address). Finally, unlisted videos can be found by anyone with the right URL combination of letters and numbers. That makes them hard, but not impossible, to find (neither private nor unlisted videos show up in search results).
For the most privacy, make your videos private. Unlisted is also relatively private, and makes it easier to share a clip with a select few people—just be careful who gets the URL and who they share it with.
To check the settings on the videos you’ve already uploaded, open YouTube in a web browser and sign in. Click your avatar (top right), Your channel, then Videos, and choose a video to start playback. Click Edit video to see whether it’s public, private, or unlisted, and to change the setting if you need to.
Your social media posts
Social media is where you’re most likely to be posting personal information, so you’ll want to be absolutely sure about who can see what. Facebook gives you a lot of control over this: When you post anything, you’ll see a drop-down audience selector menu. This will let you limit your post’s visibility to specific groups of people, or share it with all your Facebook friends.
You can also make a post public, so everyone can see it—even people you’re not connected with on Facebook. To see what’s currently public on your profile, open up Facebook on the web, then click your avatar (top right) to get to your profile. Then click the eye icon on the right to see a public view of your profile. If anything shows up that you don’t want to be public, click the small globe icon next to the post to change its privacy setting.
Twitter and Instagram are a bit more straightforward: Your profiles and posts are either public (anyone can see them, even if you’re not connected), or private (only approved contacts can see them). You can switch between both modes of operation in the settings for Twitter (Privacy and Safety, then Protect your Tweets) or Instagram (Privacy, followed by Account privacy).
The exception is stories on Instagram (as opposed to photos and videos you post to your main feed). The privacy settings for these ephemeral pictures and clips can be a little more granular. From the app’s settings, tap Privacy, then Story to control who can see what you’re sharing (you can also choose to make stories visible to only your “close friends” group when you post them).
Your shared files and folders
Sharing files and folders is one of the key features of cloud storage services, and they’ve made the process much easier than it used to be (remember USB drives?). That said, these shares don’t usually have an expiration date, and you may not want to be sharing files and folders with other people indefinitely.
To check what you’re sharing on Dropbox on the web, for example, click Shared on the left. You can then click the three dots next to any entry on the list to unshare something. OneDrive on the web has a similar feature: Click Shared to see all the files and folders you’ve shared and to revoke access permissions (you’ll need to click the individual item and then Share to do this).
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to see everything you’ve shared in one place on either Google Drive or iCloud. In Google Drive, if a folder or file is currently shared with one or more people, you’ll see a small icon showing two people next to it. You’ll need to select an individual file or folder and click either the Link or Share button (top right) to change its sharing status.
For iCloud, open it up on the web and click through your files and folders while keeping your eye on the Share button in the top right (the silhouette inside a circle). If an item has been shared, this button will show a check mark. Click that same button if you want to revoke sharing permissions.
Your fitness data
Fitness apps are generally geared toward letting you share your runs, bike rides, and workouts with other people. After all, it’s supposedly easier to hit your fitness goals if you’re working in partnership with someone else. As a result, a lot of fitness platforms create a public profile for you and will sometimes post your stats there, which you may not want.
Fitbit is one of the biggest names in the business, and you automatically get a profile when you sign up for an account. To control what’s visible on that profile, open the Fitbit app on your phone, then tap your avatar (top left) and Privacy. The next screen will let you control what’s public and what isn’t, from your personal details (like height and weight) to your fitness achievements (like how many steps you’ve taken in a day).
Strava is another popular fitness app with a strong emphasis on sharing your exercises with other people (you may have seen maps and routes posted to social media). To control who can view what, tap Profile in the mobile app, then the cog icon (top right). Next, choose Privacy Controls and Activities to set whether activities are public, private, or only visible to your confirmed followers, or tap Profile Controls and Profile Page to set the visibility of your profile as a whole.
Other fitness apps may have similar profiles and sharing options, so it’s worth taking a look at the privacy settings for the ones you use, to make sure you aren’t revealing more than you’d like. Android and iOS come with their own fitness tracking apps, but the profiles associated with Google Fit and Apple Health aren’t made public—the stats there are for your eyes only.