How often do you wonder what social media websites know about you? If you are like most Internet users, the answer is probably never. However, that should change, and it probably will, when you realize just how much information that the internet collects on a daily basis from internet users such as yourself.

Do social media sites stalk you?

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center discovered that a majority of Facebook users were unaware that Facebook uses their activity on the website to categorize their interests. But it does. Recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that describes why Facebook collects data to determine suitable advertisements for an individual user.

According to Zuckerberg, this enables Facebook to sell advertisements and thereby keep Facebook free for users. When it comes to this formula, Facebook is joined by Google and Twitter. Fortunately, all three websites enable you to see how you are being viewed by the services and determine whether you want to allow this to occur.

Being friendly with Facebook

To see what Facebook has learned about you based on your activities on the website, head to Facebook and click on the downward-facing arrow on the top right corner of the page. From the drop-down menu, click on “settings”, then click on the link “ads” on the bottom left corner of the screen.

This should bring you to a page entitled “Ad Preferences” that will display your interests and whatever advertisers Facebook has chosen to associate with your account. Scroll down and click on the tab called “Your Information,” and then select “Your Categories,” which will show you the categories which Facebook has determined to best suit you. If you wish, you can delete any category by hovering your mouse over the offending category and clicking the “X” icon that will appear on the top right corner. In addition, you can disable custom advertisements entirely by scrolling down to “Ad Settings,” and switching the settings from “Allowed” to “Not Allowed” under the options “Ads based on data from providers” and “Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere.”

Going anonymous on google?

Google is similar to Facebook in that it uses your activity (including Google searches, locations you search on Google Maps, and YouTube videos you watch) to assign you categories that it believes to align with your interests. To discover your classifications, head to Gmail, click your icon on the top right corner of your screen, and click “Google Account.” On the left list, select “data and personalization”. Scroll to “Ad Personalization” and select “go to ad settings.” This page will give you a list of categories that Google has found relevant enough to associate with your account.

At the top of the screen, you can disable advertisement personalization. However, Google will still continue to track what you do. In order to disable that feature, you must return to your Google account homepage, click “data and personalization”, scroll to “activity controls”, and select “manage your activity controls.” This will lead you to a page that compiles all of the information Google has stored about you, such as the Google Docs you have accessed, what voice searches you have made, and what places you have traveled to. Next to each category is a slider that you can click to disable the tracking if you so desire.

Tracked by Twitter

Twitter also collects information on its users. Seeing your data that Twitter has collected is as simple as clicking your profile icon in the upper right corner of the screen, choosing “settings and privacy” then “your twitter data”, and then scrolling to “interest and ads data” and selecting “see all.” You will then be presented with a list of all the interests that have been attached to your account based on your activity. In order to disable the website from collecting such data, click your profile icon, then “settings and privacy”, then “privacy and safety.” Scroll down to “personalization and data”, click “edit”, and then enable and disable the settings as you so choose.

With all of the aforementioned steps at your fingertips, you should now be able to surf social media sites comfortably. At least Facebook, Google, and Twitter.