Until recently millions of social media users were unaware of how much their personal data was being "mined." Protecting one's privacy while still enjoying the benefits of online social interaction has become a real concern.
Social Network Data Mining
Social media mining refers to the collection of data from account users. This data is analyzed and used to create profiles and patterns of users for primarily better advertising and marketing targeting. Data began to be used extensively during the 2012 campaign for president by the Barack Obama staff. Since then, the usage for political targeting has grown.
What Data Is Involved
- Demographics such as age, gender, and location
- How you access social media such as via a computer or a mobile device
- Your search history on both social media platforms and browsers
- Your likes, shares, clicks on posts and other social interactions
- Your clicks on ads that are shared in your news feed and on browser searches
- Your friends and contacts
- User calls and text history for some users of Android smartphones who opted in to this option.
How Your Mined Data Is Used
Facebook, Google, and other social media platforms and browsers engage in social media data mining to provide information for advertisers. Advertising dollars is one of the prime sources of revenue for these companies. The data can be used by companies to micro-target potential buyers of their products and services.
Misuse of Data
In 2018 the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed a third-party company had mined the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook accounts. This data was taken unbeknownst to the users and without their permission. The data was used to create political profiles to influence the 2016 presidential election. There are allegations, as well, that similar tactics were used to sway voters in the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. Facebook has since updated its privacy options to restrict third-party applications from mining such data and improved its permission and privacy settings for users.
Google faced controversy, as well, for its data mining of users. Complaints have been filed with the Federal Trade Commission over privacy violations. This is not the first time Google has been criticized and back in 2011, the FTC filed a consent decree over its policies and paid a $22.5 million fine in 2012 over privacy issues.
How to Protect Your Data
With the renewed scrutiny on data privacy, social media platforms are beginning to revise their privacy settings to protect users. If keeping your data safe is a concern, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Review the privacy settings for all your social media accounts to make sure the highest level of protection is enabled.
- Avoid using any third-party applications such as games and quizzes to avoid collection of personal data.
- When given the option to register with websites to login with Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+, choose to use an email and password instead.
- Check the settings of browsers that you use such as Chrome and install ad-blockers.
- Use browsers that promote strong privacy controls such as Firefox and Duck Duck Go.
Enjoying Social Media Safely
If you're truly concerned about social network data mining and your privacy, you always have the option of deleting your social media use entirely. This isn't an option for many people, though, and there's no reason to stop enjoying your favorite networks. Take proper privacy precautions and keep on top of the latest news to understand more about the current and future uses of social data mining.