5 Most Common Social Media Privacy Issues (& How to Deal with Them)
Since most of us use social media platforms daily, social media privacy has emerged as a pivotal concern for all of us. Billions of users across the globe turn to platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to connect, share, and communicate. Consequently, there’s an escalating need to understand and protect our digital footprints. This issue isn’t just about keeping personal photos or status updates private. It’s about safeguarding one’s very identity and ensuring that data, often shared without a second thought, doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Data breaches, cybersecurity threats, and intricate data-sharing protocols demand proactive measures. Now more than ever, we must recognize the most prevalent social media privacy issues and arm ourselves with the knowledge and tools to combat them.
As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power.” In this context, knowledge can be the very shield safeguarding your online persona.
Most Social Media Users Worry About Data Privacy
The vast expanse of the digital realm is continually evolving, and at its heart lies social media. With its ever-growing influence, understanding the landscape of social media privacy becomes paramount.
- Facebook: 3.03 billion
- Instagram: 2.5 billion
- TikTok: 1.67 billion
- LinkedIn: 950 million members
- Twitter: 528 million
As user bases expand, so do concerns about digital footprints and vulnerabilities. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey shows that more than half of Americans worry about their data privacy.
These Are the Most Common Social Media Privacy Issues
1. Data Harvesting and Selling
Social media platforms are designed to keep users engaged, but beneath the surface, they serve a dual purpose as data collection tools. While we enjoy the connectivity and services they offer, our interactions provide them with invaluable data.
As the saying goes, “If the service is free, you’re the product.” This adage holds for many of these platforms, with user data harvested and sometimes sold or used for targeted advertising.
Here’s a comprehensive look at what top platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter might be gathering about you:
- Account passwords
- Email address
- Phone number
- Uploaded photos, videos, audio messages
- Posts, likes, comments, shares
- Direct and private messages
- Used hashtags and platform searches
- List of your contacts
- Text message histories (especially for Instagram and Facebook’s Messenger)
- Device type and technical specifics
- IP address
- Browser and operating system details
- Exact geolocation
- General location data (e.g., country, internet address)
- Facial recognition details (common on Facebook and Instagram)
- Cookies and trackers
- Browsing history (also when visiting third-party websites)
- Shared data between interrelated platforms (for example, Facebook and Instagram)
- Access permissions to photos on your device
In short, they track everything you do online and almost everything you have stored on your phone. Every click, like, share, or search on social media can be more revealing than you think. Platforms build intricate user profiles that can be extremely valuable to advertisers.
Then, they sell aggregated user data or advertising insights. The absence of transparency and consent is a primary concern, and the consequences can be very impactful.
One of the most notorious instances was the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where they harvested data from millions of Facebook users without explicit consent and used it for political advertising.
2. Unwanted Location Sharing
Features like ‘check-ins,’ geotagged photos, or location-based stories can unintentionally divulge sensitive information about your whereabouts, routines, or even your home’s layout. For example, some geolocation tags are so precise that they list not just the general area but the exact address of where you are.
Consider this: every time you post a photo from a restaurant and tag its exact location, you are broadcasting your absence from home. Geotagging has led to burglars targeting residences after homeowners enthusiastically shared their vacation photos, inadvertently signaling that their houses were ripe for a break-in.
Moreover, for families with tech-savvy kids, the stakes are even higher. Children can inadvertently share their location on social media or through certain smartphone apps. With a feature like Snap Map, Snapchat can pinpoint a user’s exact location, right down to their street name and home image. The risks, while sometimes underappreciated, are genuine.
To mitigate these dangers:
- Turn off your phone’s Location Settings unless necessary.
- Audit the settings of individual apps and make sure they don’t track your location without your knowledge.
- Resist the urge to share your location in posts.
For further insights, especially for women and girls who might be at greater risk, consider checking out our Internet Safety Guide for Women and Girls.
3. Profile Cloning, Identity Theft, and Doxxing
The term social media identity theft isn’t merely a catchphrase but a pressing reality many face. By imitating your persona, scammers approach your contacts maliciously, either to defraud or spread misinformation.
Similarly, there’s doxxing. It’s the dark underbelly of the internet where individuals, either out of vendetta or pure malice, expose personal information of unsuspecting users without their consent. A victim of doxxing might find their address, phone number, workplace, or even family details splashed across the internet, inviting unsolicited attention, harassment, or even real-world threats.
The virtual world, for all its benefits, unfortunately also serves as a platform for bullying in a more covert and widespread manner. Cyberbullying is an alarming issue that has come to the forefront in recent years, especially among younger internet users. In fact, more than half of all kids have reported experiencing online harassment or bullying at some point.
The insidious nature of cyberbullying is that it can happen at any time, from any place, and by anyone. Victims often feel isolated, humiliated, and defenseless, especially if they don’t understand how to navigate the internet safely. For parents and guardians, this can be a particularly distressing concern. To provide guidance and tools for safe internet usage, our A Kids Guide to the Internet offers valuable insights and resources to equip children with the necessary knowledge.
Most social media platforms have mechanisms in place to report online harassment. By taking this step, users protect themselves and others who might be potential victims.
For parents wanting to be more proactive in safeguarding their children online, there are numerous parental control apps available on the market. These apps monitor online interactions and can notify adults when potential cyberbullying or harmful content is detected.
5. Third-party Apps Accessing Data
Many apps and online services offer the convenience of using social media login credentials. However, upon doing so, these third-party apps often request permission to access your social media data. While some requests might be genuine, driven by the app’s core functionality, others could be overreaching and unnecessary. By granting unwarranted permissions, users can unknowingly provide these apps access to personal photos, friend lists, or even private messages.
The “This Is Your Digital Life” quiz app is a prime example. While it posed as a simple personality quiz, it harvested data from users and their Facebook friends, accumulating information from millions.
Users must remain vigilant and discerning, understanding the permissions they grant and weighing them against the benefits of the app or service.
Practical Steps to Deal with Social Media Privacy Issues
Social media privacy is not merely about recognizing potential pitfalls but actively equipping yourself with strategies to navigate them. Below are some pragmatic steps you can take to fortify your online privacy.
1. Regularly Check Your Privacy Settings
One of the primary defenses against unexpected data breaches is the diligent maintenance of your privacy settings.
Step-by-step guide for top platforms:
- Facebook: Navigate to ‘Settings & Privacy’> ‘Privacy Center.’ Here, you can manage who sees your posts and how people can find and contact you.
- Instagram: Go to your profile, tap on the three lines at the top right > ‘Settings and privacy.’ Adjust settings like ‘Account privacy,’ ‘Messages and story replies,’ ‘Tags and mentions,’ and ‘Sharing.’
- Twitter: Click ‘More’> ‘Settings and privacy’> ‘Privacy and Safety.’ Manage tweet privacy, photo tagging, and discoverability here.
Social media platforms frequently update their terms of service, data usage policies, and privacy settings. Whenever this happens, you must review your privacy settings. Just like our bodies need a health check-up, our digital personas need a privacy check-up.
2. Limit Third-party App Permissions
Ever stopped to think about all those apps sneaking a peek at your data? It’s time to reign them in.
If you’re on Facebook, it’s simple: Head to ‘Settings’, then ‘Apps and Websites’. This is your control room where you can see which apps have the keys to your data kingdom and, if you feel like it, show them the door.
Got a Google account? Jump into ‘Security’ and then ‘Third-party apps with account access’. It’s your personal review hub to tweak what these apps can see and do.
For the Apple aficionados: Go to Settings, find ‘Privacy & Security’, and tap ‘App Privacy Report’.
A quick tip: Whenever you download a new app, read the permissions list. If a simple game is asking to access your contacts or location, that’s your cue to ask, “Why?”
3. Use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds an extra step to your basic login process. Beyond just inputting a password, 2FA requires a second verification, usually via a text message, a mobile app, or an email.
Even if someone has stolen or guessed your password, they’d still be locked out without the second verification component. This way, nobody can access your profiles or read your messages.
4. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
VPNs are not just for corporate use or accessing geo-restricted content. They play a pivotal role in enhancing online privacy.
How? VPNs mask your IP address and location by rerouting internet traffic through a secure server. It helps keep your online activities anonymous and deters platforms from collecting precise geolocation data.
Social media’s allure is undeniable, connecting us across miles and moments. But with such connectivity comes privacy challenges.
Being vigilant is key. By adjusting our privacy settings, being wary of third-party apps, and using two-factor authentication, we build our line of defense. Recognizing potential threats, like suspicious links, further protects us.
It’s comforting to know we’re not alone in this fight. ISPs are stepping up, enhancing online safety measures. Race Communications, for instance, offers tools like the Race CommandIQ app, fortifying our defense against the digital unknown.
In conclusion, with the right precautions, we can enjoy social media safely.