Vero is a three-year-old app that's suddenly become a popular alternative to established social media platforms. It has a platform that promises to show you what your friends and network are posting, in chronological order — and with no ads.
It does sound alluring. Tons of users signed up for the Instagram-wannabe before anyone read the fine print and noticed the small detail that your account linked with your name and phone number is difficult to delete.
But the Vero micro-scandal serves as a useful reminder: It's always a good time to go through your social media app settings on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and all the rest to check how your data is being used. This is especially necessary when it's your content getting exploited for the benefit a company, usually for targeted advertising.
Looking across top social platforms, like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google, and, yes, Vero, here are all the check boxes you should probably click (or un-click) to stop your content and data from getting used, abused, and monetized.
Facebook knows a lot about you, but you can mitigate at least some of the constant tracking.
Within settings, you can get very specific about ad settings and decide how targeted you want ads to be. For example, you can turn off an option to have ads based on your general internet browsing.
Facial recognition is another new tool/creepy online surveillance tactic that you need to opt out of on the platform. Facebook has a settings tab dedicated just to this, which you can turn off. Unless, of course, you want the social media giant to be constantly scanning for your face — then by all means keep it on. Facebook has been posting the benefits of the feature, as seen below in a colleague's feed.
Ad targeting has been a big part of the micro-blogging platform for years, but you can go into your settings and look for "Privacy and Safety." The Personalization and Data section is where you can uncheck a lot of boxes — there are six different data collection options.
For your actual tweets to stay protected, you'll need to set your account to private. Then your tweets will only be visible to your Twitter followers and can't be retweeted or quoted. They also won't be searchable outside of your network.
idk what’s happening with Twitter’s ad targeting this morning but I’ve been served 7 or 8 of these promoted follower cards for different corporations and news sites I’ve literally never heard of before in the last 20 mins alone pic.twitter.com/6eA37z8TX1
— ????? ?????? (@emilyhughes) February 24, 2018
With Snapchat's Snap Maps you have to opt out to share your location so you're not included in curated stories based on geography, otherwise your story post could be on the map for 24 hours.
Within the app, you can also disable ad tracking in settings (the gear button on the top right of your main profile page). Click on "manage" and then "ad preferences." In there you can toggle off ad tracking.
Google is the motherlode of data about your online existence. Everything is tracked and watched to make your digital life smoother — but sometimes you don't want your search history coming back to haunt you. Within your Google command center, aka the "Activity controls" section, you can uncheck boxes that save your online activity, location history, and even YouTube searches and watch history.
Much of your online life is tracked through Google, so this is a big one to stay on top of and monitor.
If you don't want your images showing up in Google image searches you should make your account private or revoke access for third parties. This can be done in the manage access section of settings under "authorized applications."
Targeted advertising pertains to pins, too. To get the board-making site to stop peering so closely into your online habits, go to your settings and follow Pinterest's guide to opting out of "Picked for you" pins.
...and finally, Vero
The app seems beyond buggy and it's difficult to delete, but if you've got it up and running be wary about putting in your full name and phone number and any other identifying information into the service.
Keep in mind that it might just suck — no amount of opt-outs can change that.
Now that you've gone through each app and platform, an overall location services check on your smartphone is an important next step. Your location data gets pulled all over the place — often for apps that don't really need it. Unless it's a map app or a ride-hailing service, you can turn this data sharing off. Below is one of my colleagues' settings. He keeps his location as closed off as possible.
To deal with this on an iPhone, open Settings, then Privacy, then Location Services. On an Android it's within Settings, then Location, and then Google Location Settings. From there you can turn the feature on and off for different apps and services.
Apple also has a guide to opt out of targeted ads in its App Store and Apple News app.
If location settings seem inconsequential, look at fitness tracker Strava's heatmap fiasco, which was inadvertently exposing military bases and service member habits.
Location data can also expose where you live and work — which is creepy, but it gets worse if that information gets hacked and ends up in the hands of ill-intentioned people.
This is powerful stuff — but stuff that can be easily toggled on and off.