The Layman's Guide to Privacy on Twitter: TOS and Privacy Settingsby@Johnson2
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The Layman's Guide to Privacy on Twitter: TOS and Privacy Settings

by Terry JohnsonSeptember 3rd, 2019
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Too Long; Didn't Read

Twitter's terms of service is short and easy to read in a sitting. The company’s privacy policy does allow anonymous accounts, so you don’t have to give them your real name. Twitter will also share your content with 3rd parties so they can use it on media and services outside of Twitter's control. The most complete way to control whether you get tagged in photos is to disable tagging altogether. Only your followers can see your tweets or see them in search engines like Google.

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Not long ago, we didn’t think too much about those terms of service (TOS) agreements and big tech. As big tech gets more negative press because of privacy concerns, it pays for all of us to double-check what we want to share and what we don’t. Many people are concerned enough that they are deleting their Facebook or Twitter accounts completely. 

Twitter is one of the biggest social media companies in the world, and it is a big part of personal and professional social media strategies. Here’s what you should know about Twitter’s TOS and how you can use their privacy settings to protect yourself.

6 Things You Should Know About Twitter Terms of Service

The terms of service page is always the biggest lie on the internet. We say that we read and agree to the TOS, but we don’t really. Here are a few things that you should know about it.

Easy To Read

Twitter is trying to do something about the legal jargon in most TOS documents. The company’s terms of service is short and easy to read in a sitting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a fun read. But it does make sense to a normal person. 

License For Your Content

When you sign up for Twitter, you grant the company a license to use all the content you tweet. Here’s the text:

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed). 

That means that you give Twitter a license to do whatever they want with your content: tweets, photos, movies, etc. 

If you balk at this, remember that this kind of license is necessary for a social media company to be a social media company. If Twitter doesn’t have a license to distribute the content you send out, they can’t share it with anyone. 

Sharing With 3rd Parties

Twitter will also share your content with 3rd parties so they can use it on media and services outside of Twitter’s control. That’s how tweets end up on TV or cited in an article. It also gives lots of wiggle room for any other use. 

Public Information

Twitter’s privacy policy does allow anonymous accounts, so you don’t have to even give them your real name. Still, there is some information that remains public no matter what you do:

  • Display name
  • User Name
  • Profile photo
  • Time Zone
  • Language

Contact Information and Address Book

Twitter uses your contact information to contact you with their own administrative messaging, login verification, and to contact you. They also use your contact info for marketing services to you. Basically, they use your info to send you ads.  

Here’s what the privacy policy says, “Twitter also uses your contact information to market to you as your country’s laws allow.” They also use it to help you find contacts and to help others find you. 

If you upload your address book, then you give Twitter a trove of information about yourself and your friends. It does help you find your friends on Twitter, but it also helps Twitter know more about you so they can better market to you and to them. 

Direct Messages

Twitter uses direct messages for private conversations. They do scan the content to scan for malware, to do link shortening, and review malicious content. 

They also claim that they do not use your message contents to direct ads to you. So, they won’t read your DM’s to find out what brands you like. Just remember, if you do anything in DM that would normally be public, that information is no longer private.

Privacy Settings

While Twitter doesn’t have as complete a set of privacy settings as other social media sites, like Facebook, it does have several settings to change what you make public.

Public or Protected Tweets

You can set your tweets to be public or protected. Notice, we did not say “private” but “protected.” 

Once you turn your account to “protected,” you will receive a request when someone wants to follow you. Then, you either approve or deny the request. Should you approve, that person can see all of your tweeted content.

Your followers won’t be able to retweet your tweets. They won’t show up in a search engine, like Google. Only your followers can search your tweets or see permanent links to them. 

Tagging Photos

There are two ways to control whether you get tagged in photos. The most complete way is to disable tagging altogether. It’s a simple task, and then no one will be able to tag you at all. 

If you still want to be able to be tagged, you can remove a tag from individual photos. Just click the down arrow icon, and select “remove tag from photo.” Easy enough, though it may take a lot of work if you want to heavily moderate your tags. 

Direct Messages

You can control who can send you a direct message. There’s a simple check box in your privacy settings. If you deselect “receive messages from anyone,” you will only be able to receive messages from people you follow. 

Finding You

You can also control how people can find you on Twitter. The company gives you two options, email and phone number. That means that people can find your account in a search by using that information. You can select or deselect either option.

Final Privacy Reminder

Just remember that few things can remain truly private on social media. Anything you tweet, even a direct message, goes to the people who receive it. They can use it however they like, including screenshots. If you want something to stay truly private, don’t put it on Twitter.


We’re all more concerned about privacy than we used to be. We used to think that it was a great deal to give away our private info just so we could use a free service but not any more. This article can help you understand what Twitter does with your information and the privacy settings they allow.