4 social media privacy facts that will surprise you
Social media has changed the landscape of internet privacy, in part by creating a culture founded on sharing. Maintaining your social media privacy isn’t just about evaluating what you share — it’s also about learning who has access to your personal information.
Your information isn’t as contained as you might think. When you go on social media, not only are you sharing the details of your life with the people who follow you, you’re also exposing your personal information to websites, companies, advertisers, and internet service providers. Thanks to data tracking, companies can find and follow your digital footprints on the various social media accounts you use, gathering information on everything from your interests to your occupation.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your social media privacy. And the first step is learning how and where your privacy is being threatened. Here are four things you may not know about social media privacy:
1. Default privacy settings can expose your personal information
Social media privacy settings are rarely straightforward. The majority of social media platforms have default settings you may not be comfortable with. These default settings, also known as opt-out settings, rely on your passive consent to access your personal information. Instead of asking you to check a box that says you consent to having your information shared, opt-out settings require you to seek out and change a default setting.
Other common opt-out privacy settings include agreeing to:
Allow your profile show up in public searches
Alerts that display when you’re online
Have your cookies saved
Track your interests
According to a 2018 report from the Pew Research Center, 74% of adult Facebook users in the United States said they didn’t know Facebook kept a list of their personal interests (think: tennis or Beyoncé), and over half of those respondents said they weren’t comfortable with the company having such sensitive details.
What’s more, the privacy settings on most social media platforms don’t offer full protection. On Facebook, for example, even if you limit who sees your posts, your personal information can still get to third parties through friends who like or comment on your posts. Plus, most social media companies have a massive page of privacy settings to scroll through, some of which can be confusing.
2. The rise in data breaches puts your information at risk
Social media companies have access to a vast amount of personal information. The average social media platform can figure out your:
- Email address
- Phone number
- Past employers
- Relationship status
- Political affiliation
- Financial situation
- Health condition
The greater the amount of sensitive information you have online, the more concerning data breaches become. Unfortunately, breaches are increasing. According to the 2019 Thales Data Threat Report, 65% of U.S. respondents have experienced a breach. Out of those respondents, 36% experienced a breach in 2018, compared to just 26% in 2017.
The number of people affected is growing, too. In the Cambridge Analytica scandal, for example, the political data firm mishandled the private information of more than 50 million Facebook users. More recently, a media company and app collectively leaked the Facebook profile information and unprotected passwords of hundreds of millions of users on Amazon’s cloud server.
And the problem doesn’t stop there. It’s not just the social media platform itself that has access to your personal information. Any app, game, or tool you use on a social media platform can demand permission to access your profile. That means if you take a personality quiz on Facebook or use an extension to add a filter to your photos, these third-party apps can find information on your friends, jobs, contact info, and more.
3. Your friends can compromise your social media privacy
As social media use becomes more widespread, individual social media privacy is diminishing. According to a 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center, 69% of American adults use at least one social media platform (not including YouTube), which means the majority of your social circle will use one or more of the same platforms you do.
Even if you tighten your privacy controls, you’re still not in control of your friends’ privacy settings. Social media companies, advertisers, and third-party entities can still access your personal information through your friends’ profiles and posts.
Your friends might let Facebook access their contacts list, for example, which can then expose your phone number and email address to trackers. Likes, comments, and the general exchange of information between you and your friends get encoded on each other’s profiles.
As a result, advertisers can use your friend group to learn more about you. In fact, researchers found that you can profile someone with 95% accuracy using the information from just eight or nine of their friends’ social media accounts, according to a 2019 study published in Nature Human Behavior. These companies can then use your information — as well as the information of your friends — to analyze your online behavior, create a digital persona, send you targeted ads, and tailor your newsfeeds.
4. Syncing apps spreads your personal information across the web
Using your social media account to sign into other online accounts may make internet logins easier, but it also limits your privacy. When you sync two apps or accounts, you give both apps permission to access the data on the corresponding platform. If you sign into your favorite retail store using your Facebook profile, not only does Facebook get access to your account information in the online store, but the store also has access to your Facebook profile.
This information swap spreads your personal details far beyond the two apps you’re using. That’s because most social media and advertising companies reserve the right to sell or share your information with third parties. In fact, a 2018 study from the International Computer Science Institute said that eight of the top 10 global advertising and tracking companies “reserve the right to sell or share data with other organizations, while all [10 companies] reserve the right to share data with their subsidiaries.”
Not only does this make you more vulnerable to data breaches, it also puts you at risk of receiving unwanted targeted ads.
How to protect your social media privacy
Protecting your social media privacy is an ongoing endeavor. It’s important not only to review and update your privacy settings on each platform but to double-check your synced apps and read privacy policies carefully.
You may also want to consider downloading a privacy app. An all-in-one tool like FigLeaf can help you stay anonymous as you browse your newsfeeds, limit tracking, or find out what types of personal information your social media platforms have access to.
Get more social media freedom with FigLeaf
Social media may have reduced users’ autonomy in the digital space, but there are still things you can do to restore your social media privacy. Unlike other privacy apps, FigLeaf lets you choose — and change — your level of visibility wherever you go online, including your favorite social media websites. We believe that when privacy is a choice, humanity is free. Free to connect, create, and have fun without fear.