Social Media and the Privacy Policy Challenge: A Deep Dive

With almost 5 billion users around the world, it is clear that social media is running the internet. Facebook, Instagram, and others are bringing people closer together, allowing them to share content, including personal photos, educational posts, tutorials, and fun videos. While all of this might seem harmless, the reality is completely different.

All these platforms collect user data one way or another, and personal information could sometimes be up for grabs. Not many users are into reading each privacy policy and don’t even know the type of information being collected from them.

However, the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of the 2010s probably made some people more careful when it comes to social media and the content they upload to the platforms.

Now is the perfect time to explore why social media privacy is a huge topic today and dive deeper into the collected data. We won’t forget different ways to protect your privacy on the social media platform of your choice either. So, let’s begin!

The importance of privacy on social media

We all have at least a couple of friends who post constantly on social media, sharing every detail of their lives. Surely, this behavior can sometimes be annoying, but it is also quite dangerous, especially when you think about other information collected from websites that users visit daily. Cookies and trackers collect and store data, which is combined with social media activity to create a complete profile of a single user.

If all of this sounds a bit dystopian, wait until you learn about the types of data collected by social media platforms. Creating an account on any social media platform includes agreeing to their terms and conditions. Let’s be realistic here—users rarely read through that wall of text. As a result, they give permission to a social media platform to collect various data on them.

These include financial records, age, geo-location, ethnicity, list of friends, employment data, different life events, social media activity, religion, and more. The list is extensive, and some of the data is really not crucial for improving the services of social media platforms. So, why do they collect this information?

Social media platforms collaborate with third-party services and sell user data to them. That is completely legal, thanks to the terms and conditions. You’ve probably already agreed to this without even knowing about data collection.

These third parties are willing to pay for user information, which is an excellent business model for social media platforms. The platforms can be used free of charge, and users don’t know that their data is the currency.

Mergers and acquisitions are another way social media platforms can create better user profiles. Just take a look at all the platforms under Meta’s umbrella. Perhaps the most shocking merge happened in 2014 when Facebook (future Meta) purchased WhatsApp. WhatsApp became incredibly popular thanks to its focus on user privacy.

During the negotiations, Facebook promised not to modify WhatsApp’s privacy settings but changed their tune two years later, in 2016. Facebook was finally sued by the Federal Trade Commission in 2020. The court case is still ongoing, but the FTC is not very confident they will win this battle.

Cybercrime and social media

The vast amount of data collected by social media platforms is a magnet for cybercriminals and scammers. They don’t shy away from going after third-party businesses who purchase information from social media either. Therefore, your personal details could be leaked in a data breach at any moment unless proper cybersecurity measures are in place.

The growth of social media allowed other types of cybercrime to blossom on the platforms. For instance, hackers sometimes distribute malware and viruses through direct messaging or engage in cyberbullying and blackmail, especially if they learn private information about a targeted social media user.

How to protect your social media account

Now that we have covered the potential dangers of social media data collection, as well as their sometimes incomprehensible privacy policies, it is time to talk about how to protect your personal information on these platforms:

Learn more about a social media platform

Not all social media platforms are created equal. Some originate from countries that don’t have strict privacy laws. It is also good to go through the App Permissions and see if you have any third-party apps connected to your account.

Reading the privacy policies of every platform you use will give you a better understanding of the data that is collected and the cybersecurity measures used to protect it. If there’s anything you don’t like or support, deleting your profile is always an option. Just remember to erase all your data as well!

Are you considering signing up for a new social media platform? If the answer is yes, ask yourself this: Do I need this social media account? It is perfectly fine to limit yourself to a single platform and find out as much as possible about it.

Be careful with your data

If you have decided to use a social media platform and create an account there, be very selective about the content you post online. Sensitive personal data should be out of the question, especially if your profile is public. Another useful tip is to switch off geo-location data right away, especially if you use a social media platform on your phone. There is no good reason to allow a platform to know where you post from.

Use a VPN

Tools like VPN are essential in providing online privacy in general. For example, a VPN will hide your actual IP address and encrypt your online traffic, enabling safe browsing. Just remember to perform a VPN leak test to ensure your privacy is not compromised. Sometimes, a VPN is not set up properly, or your browser uses WebRTC by default. Your IP address and online traffic could be revealed as a result. Luckily, a VPN leak test is designed to warn you about these errors.

Posted by
Dharmesh Donda

iStaunch is written by Dharmesh Donda, an avid Internet geek, IT professional since 2012. Have been in IT industry for more than a decade, and currently doing management and consulting work have taken a plunge into entrepreneurship.

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