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How to protect your personal details on social media

Stories about snooping scandals and social media surveillance are nothing new, but few of us expected the revelation that the EU can't protect European Facebook users' data from US intelligence. The news stems from the 'Facebook data privacy case', which accused the likes of Facebook, Apple and Microsoft of leaving users' personal details open to such surveillance. 

If the EU can't protect our data on social media, how can we protect it ourselves? The advice of the European Commission attorney on the case, Bernard Schima, was pretty clear-cut: "You might consider closing your Facebook account." However, if you don't want to hit 'delete' on your online life entirely, there are a few simple steps you can take to bulk up your social media security.

1. Strengthen your passwords

The longer and more complex your password is, the harder it is for a programme to crack. It should be more than 10 characters long and include both upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. Use different passwords for your various accounts, and try to change them every three months. If you struggle to keep track of which password you're using for what site, software like KeePass, an encrypted database, could help.

2. Share sensibly

It's the first rule of social media safety: avoid sharing personal or financial information. This is particularly relevant in the case of identity theft. Do also be sceptical when you receive emails asking for personal details, even if they seem to be from an official source like your bank. Rather than clicking provided links, google the site – that way you'll know you've found its legitimate website and not a convincing fake.

3. Use privacy settings

All social networks have privacy settings, although they're not always immediately obvious, so do learn how to use them. The UK Information Commissioner's Office recommends starting on the highest setting possible and adjusting as you feel comfortable.

4. If all else fails...

Follow Schima's advice: delete your Facebook account. It might be extreme, but it's also the only way to effectively remove personal data you've already shared. To do this, you'll need to contact Facebook via its help centre, otherwise your account will just be deactivated temporarily. The process can take up to 90 days and some information, like private messages with friends and log records, will remain on record.

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