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Privacy on Social Media

Mychelle Blake
Woman spied on by cctv camera

Social media use continues to explode with 81 percent of Americans in 2017 using at least one social media platform. Yet spending so much time online has become increasingly worrisome for many social media users.

Your Personal Data and Social Media

One of the wonderful aspects of social media is the ability to develop personal relationships across the internet. However, this involves providing personal data in profiles with everything from your birthday, to where you live, to your jobs and interests. While this information might seem innocuous, it does present the possibility of intruding on privacy.

Gathering Personal Data

Aside from the information in account profiles, anything you post can become data for the social media platform. This includes your posts, comments, likes, photos, videos, and even the ads you click on. Sites such as Facebook seek to acquire a rich catalog of demographic data to create a more effective targeting mechanism for their advertising and thus increase revenue.

It's not only social media platforms that gather your data, but search engines such as Google are a concern as well. Have you ever wondered why items you search to buy on Google suddenly start appearing in ads on Facebook feed? Google is continuously storing data on your search patterns, location, and demographics and using it to make their advertising services more precise.

Third-Party Apps

One of the ways your data is collected is through third-party applications that make use of a program's "application programming interface" which is widely known as the API. Using this interface, potentially anyone can create apps on many platforms. Unfortunately, use of the API can also allow these companies to have access to tons of personal information without your knowledge. Every time you use any type of add-on application, you are allowing third-party companies access to data many would call unnecessary and invasive.

Cambridge Analytica

The case of Cambridge Analytica, a political marketing firm, is an example of how personal data is being used in ways you did not intend. Many Americans were shocked to learn the personal information of up to 50 million Facebook users had been "mined" by the firm through third-party apps. Even more concerning was learning the mined data was used to create "psychographic" profiles to influence voting patterns.

Ensuring Your Privacy

Just how much of your information can be kept private depends on your willingness to shield your profiles from public view. A Facebook profile you only allow friends and family to see with privacy settings enabled can keep a certain amount safe, but not all of it. On the opposite extreme, accounts where you have 500 friends, post tons of videos and images about your life, and have no privacy settings enabled make you "an open book" to both the social media platform and to the third-party companies. However, there are some steps you can take to help protect your privacy if you still want to be an active social media user.

Use Privacy Settings

Almost all major social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, have privacy settings to keep your site restricted to only the followers you want. These settings will not completely free you from privacy concerns, but they do help minimize it.

Avoid Third Party Applications

Part of the fun of using Facebook are the games, personality quizzes, and even productivity apps. However, every time you click on one and accept their terms of service, you are opening your data up to them. Once they have it, deleting your Facebook account will not remove it permanently. Since these companies exist outside of Facebook, they can keep any data they have mined. The next time someone sends you an invite to play a game on or to add your birthday to a reminder app, think twice about whether you really want to do this.

Manage Search Engines and Browsers

Search engines such as Google and browsers like Chrome keep information on your usage. Some of this can be convenient, such as remembering your search history to make searches faster. However, this does mean everything you search is stored. You can take steps such as turning off your web history and location history, adjusting privacy settings in your browser, clearing your cookies, and opting out of ads. Another option is to use search engines focused on data privacy, such as Duck Duck Go.

Privacy Awareness and Social Media

One of the risks of using social media is you can never truly have 100 percent privacy in the digital world. The first step in protecting your privacy is being aware of what data is being taken and how it's used. Remaining vigilant and up to date on the latest privacy issues and steps to protect it will continue to be an issue for everyone online.

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Privacy on Social Media