Many of us use social media without paying too much attention to the fine print. Privacy policies come and go, terms of service change again and again, without most people giving them more than a brief glance while looking for the “Agree” button.
However, considering the direction that online privacy in general, and social media in particular, are going, it might be time to leave that blasé attitude behind.
The big social networks are collecting more and more data about their users. It’s free to use Facebook and Twitter, but that’s because these corporations are making big money selling your data to advertisers.
The more detailed, highly personal information they have on you, the better a “product” you are in the eyes of corporations that put out personalized, targeted ads.
The state of social media privacy is changing every day, and there have been some troubling developments lately. Let’s take a look at the latest updates from some of the most popular social tools, and how you can protect your privacy while using them.
Facebook – Why it’s impossible to be invisible to strangers…
Many users and researchers have noticed that over the past few years, Facebook has been quietly chipping away at user privacy.
For example, did you know you can’t make a truly private profile anymore?
As of 2013, you can’t stop people who search for you by name from seeing your profile. If someone who isn’t your friend views your profile, they can only see old posts, but it’s impossible to be invisible to strangers.
Facebook also keeps a staggering amount of data on its users.
This has led to a head-on conflict with European law. France’s data protection watchdog group just hit Facebook with a €150,000 fine for data privacy violations and is facing investigation by Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain.
Max Schrems, an Austrian law student, recently took advantage of the EU’s strict privacy laws to request the information that Facebook had collected on him. This came in the form of a file that was over 1,200 pages long.
Schrems’ file included a list of everyone he had ever friended or defriended, all of his past messages and chats (including ones that he had deleted), every event he had ever been invited to and how he responded to the invite, a list of who else logged onto Facebook using the same computer as him, email addresses he hadn’t provided (presumably taken from his friends’ contact lists), and much more.
Facebook makes big money off of advertising, and the more personal details it can sell to corporations, the better – for them, at least.
For you, it means even more intrusive “targeted” ads that follow you around the web, plus a considerable risk to your online security. All of this highly personal data being stored and transferred is a breach waiting to happen.
Creepiest of all, Facebook is now tracking the online activity of people who aren’t even members of the network, and serving ads based on this data.
If you aren’t on Facebook, you can avoid these ads either by using ad blocking software or opting out from browser-specific tracking on each browser you use.
If you do use Facebook, here are a few tips for protecting your privacy.
- Go to your ad preferences page to see what Facebook has determined you are interested in. From here to can remove preferences one by one.
- Be aware of who can see your posts. Whenever you post something, choose from a drop-down menu: “Only Me,” “Friends” or “Public,” which includes people not on Facebook. Keep in mind that whichever you choose will be the default next time, unless…
- Change your default audience settings. To do this, click on the down arrow at the top right corner of the page, open “Settings” and go to “Privacy.” In the “Who Can See My Stuff?” section, you’ll see an option of “Who can see my future posts?” The default is usually set to “Public,” but you can change it so only friends can see your posts.
- To retroactively make posts private, choose “Limit Past Posts” in the same “Who Can See My Stuff?” section.
- In this main “Privacy” section, the last question is “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?” Select “No.”
Twitter – More personalization equals more tracking and data collection
Sounds good, but keep in mind that more personalization naturally means more tracking and data collection.
The most important changes are:
- Data stored for longer. Instead of keeping users’ web data for 10 days, it will be stored for 30 days.
- Expansion of data use. Twitter will be using and sharing data in more ways, including data from other websites – but not for users in the European Union, which enforces stronger privacy laws.
- Sharing identifiable data with advertisers. The wording of this section is vague but definitely cause to be alert. “We’ve updated how we share non-personal, aggregated and device-level data, including through some select partnership agreements that allow the data to be linked to your name, email, or other personal information – but only when you give your consent to those partners.” (By “partners,” read “corporate advertisers.”) It sounds like this extremely personal data sharing is only by an opt-in system, so be very careful what terms you agree to while using Twitter.
- No more “Do Not Track.” Twitter originally supported DNT, a website policy intended to stop companies from tracking people across the web. However, from the beginning in 2012, most websites didn’t abide by it: they would stop serving targeted ads to DNT users but still collected and sold their data. Twitter has now abandoned ship on this failed attempt to protect online privacy.
The good news is that Twitter is offering users more access to their own data and more precise control over what’s collected.
You can check out Your Twitter Data to see your own demographic and interest data, including what advertisers have included you in their “tailored audience.”
Twitter is also providing new Personalization and Data settings. You can opt out of various types of personalization, data use and sharing, or opt out completely.
How to opt out from Twitter in 3 steps:
- Go to Settings on your account page.
- Open Settings and Privacy > Privacy and Safety > Personalization and Data.
- On the website, click the Disable All button at the top. On the mobile app, there will be a toggle switch.
You might have to do it on both the website and app, so check them both to be sure.
Snapchat – The latest sneak attack on your privacy and what to do about it
Snapchat’s latest update includes a small sneak attack on your privacy.
Until now, the app only asked for your location if you were using geofilters, those cute overlays that broadcast where the photo was taken.
Now, if you want to access any filters to touch up your images, you have to enable location tracking.
It makes sense with city-themed geofilters, but if you just want to add a little extra color to your selfie, why does Snapchat need to know where it was taken?
As always, it all goes back to advertising (mostly).
Snapchat shares a lot of information with third parties, including business partners, advertisers and the government.
If you’d rather not share your current whereabouts with Snapchat and all its corporate affiliates, some users have found a loophole in the new system.
How to use Snapchat filters without location tracking:
1. When you swipe right on a photo, a menu will prompt you to enable location tracking and access fun filters.
2. Hit “Allow.” This alone will not enable location data.
3. You will be redirected to the iOS Settings app. Here, just leave the “Location” option set to “Never.”
4. Double tap the home button to bring up the app switcher.
5. Go back to Snapchat and enjoy the filters!
You’ll have to do this every time you want to send a picture with a filter, but your privacy is worth it.
Is it possible to use any social media without surrendering your privacy?
Maybe not. After all, it’s the nature of social media that it’s supposed to have some connection to your IRL existence.
However, logging into these networks shouldn’t automatically mean that you consent to any third-party company pilfering through your personal data.
In general, I recommend keeping close tabs on privacy policies and updates for any site you use. Always be aware of what you’re agreeing to. And when in doubt, opt out.