Insight April 17, 2018

What Everyone Needs to Know About Online Privacy and Social Media


© New York Times

In the early days of the internet, online privacy was not a concern for most users. Many of the early adopters were advanced computer users who were so excited by the novelty of this new mode of communication that data security and online privacy were afterthoughts.

Luckily, the technological limitation of the early World Wide Web made it difficult for users, ISPs, or businesses to collect personal information. Every visit to a website was like the very first — no matter how many times you had been there before. On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog, right?

It wasn’t until Lou Montulli introduced internet cookies that users began to question their online privacy. Cookies, those small pieces of data passed between your web browser and the web server of the site you are visiting, fundamentally changed the nature of surfing the web. The internet was no longer a private space. Suddenly, the record of your online activities, transactions, and desires could be monitored, stored, and sold.

Online Privacy and Social Networks

According to Mark Zuckerberg, the rise of social networking indicates that online privacyis no longer a social norm. Sharing is in. Secrecy is out. But what does that mean for the end user?

It would seem that Zuckerberg’s assessment of the new norms surrounding online privacy holds true, based on recent data for some of the top social networks:

  • Facebook has more than 2 billion monthly active users.
  • YouTube has more than 1.5 billion monthly active users.
  • WeChat has 889 million monthly active users
  • Instagram has more than 700 million monthly active users.
  • Twitter has more than 328 million monthly active users.
  • Snapchat has more than 255 million monthly active users.

But wait! Just because people are actively using these social networks does not mean that they are comfortable with the level of surveillance that has become the hallmark of social platforms.

According to Pew Research, about seven in 10 adults in the U.S. report that they use some kind of social platform (not including YouTube), but 91 percent “agree” or “strongly agree” that people have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by all kinds of entities. What’s more, 80 percent of social media users are concerned about advertisers and businesses having access to the data they share on social platforms.

So, if you’ve lost faith in online privacy on social media, you are not alone.

How to Protect Your Online Privacy

The Cambridge Analytica scandal is only the most recent example in a long and well-documented history of online privacy concerns. While removing yourself entirely from social networks is the only sure way to avoid sharing your data, there are certain steps you can take to keep your information secure:

Read the Terms of Service. We all do it. Skip over the fine print to get to the good stuff. But, it’s important to know exactly what you’re signing up for when you click that “Agree” button. As with any contract, the ToS are written in a way that puts the company’s best interest first, not yours. Make sure the permissions match your comfort level.

Create strong passwords. Everyone knows the importance of a strong password, but it bears repeating. With the sheer volume of information you share on your social profiles, it’s important to make sure you create a strong password to keep hackers and would-be identity thieves out.

Privacy settings are your friend. We share a wealth of information about ourselves on social networks. Shouldn’t you know who can access it? There are hundreds of guides geared toward beefing up your security on individual websites, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Spend some time exploring your account privacy settings. You might be surprised to find out exactly what you’re sharing.

Reign in your friends. While most people might not think much of a birthday greeting on your Facebook wall or a congratulatory message about your new job, all that information is cataloged and stored along with the information you share. Patterns of social communication can create a “social signature” that can identify you, even when you are careful to keep your personal information guarded.

For more on how this issue will affect your business, look out for our next blog post! Subscribe to infernotes so you don’t miss it.