By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

 

SOCIAL MEDIA AND WHAT THEY SHARE ABOUT YOU

While many of us appreciate the idea of privacy, and may even actively try to preserve privacy when online, the reality is that every internet-enabled move we make is tracked, logged, reused, and sold . It’s difficult to understand what devices, apps, games, social media and websites are tracking about our online behaviors. Sure, you could ‘try’ to read the privacy rules for everything you do online, but the reading is incredibly dense, not written for a non-tech person and  – to boot – changes with each and every update. You could make it your full-time job managing privacy settings!

If you are concerned about your privacy on social media sites, here are some tips that can help you understand how they are tracking you online and give you guidance for how you can maximize your privacy.

 

WHAT ARE YOU SHARING:

Everything in your profile  — because your profiles are always public. Each platform encourages you to personalize your profile, with a photo, your address or geographic area, gender, age, family information, education, employment and more. As much as a detailed profile can make you look interesting, you have to ask yourself if you are comfortable sharing all of this PRIVATE information with any stranger in the world with an internet connection! For some sites, status updates may also be public. This means that your ‘relaxing on the beach’ update may actually be an invitation to have your home visited while you are away — by criminals! Oh, and all your Venmo payments are public (unless you changed your privacy settings from their default). Even paying for good and service is social now!

Where you are right now. Your real-time location may be being broadcast this very minute, as public information or to contacts within your network. Ever ‘check-in’ to a local business or event? Unless you want people to know your business 24/7, this may not be the best practice for you. This is especially true if your social media ‘friends’ differ from those in real life. Since we can never know who someone is that we meet online, you may be sharing your location with someone who in reality you would not trust with that degree of personal information.

Any content you share online, from music to photographs to videos and links to other websites. Besides the fact that you may not want broad access to your personal content, advertisers collect this data to learn more about you, so that they can target you with advertising. Hackers also learn more about you from the content that you post, so that they can steal your online identity. Think your security questions to reset your password are secret? Well, they can be gleaned from all you share on social media.

Whatever you post as ‘public.’ This includes your username (so don’t reveal anything about yourself with your username – unless you are an influencer using your own name!) or your posts – if you check them to be public. It’s not just your ‘friends’ who see this data – any stranger, anywhere, will know about your hernia surgery or the birth of your grandchild if your posts or account is set to public.

WHAT ARE THE SOCIAL MEDIA SITES SHARING ABOUT YOU:

Even if you lock down the privacy settings in account, there still may be information being shared about you without you controlling the flow.

 Friends and followers can share your content. When they copy and repost your photos and personal information, without your permission, they have bypassed privacy settings and there is little you can do about it.

Third-party applications are watching you and recording your every move. Social media sites and apps grant access to third-party applications and you may not have any knowledge about it! Advertisers buy their way into your data, not necessarily to study your personal posts, but to track your online activity (what sites you visit, what products you look at, and what you put into your shopping cart) and then to provide that information to businesses that, based your interests and behaviors, will tailor advertising just for you. Why do the social media sites do this? Because their revenue model is based on advertising. When advertisers have this incredibly personalized data, they then buy advertising on the social media sites and other platforms. So your free access to social media sites clearly has a price!

Also, be wary of games, quizzes and polls. These may be fun and entertaining but they are also likely generated by third party applications and give access to your public – and potentially private –  information to these entities. Even if you have read your social media sites privacy information, third-party applications may not be required to adhere to these rules. Your social media site will rely on legalese to not take responsibility for the actions of these companies, meaning that, the data they mine may not be stored securely (anyone can hack into it), they may access more information than they ‘need’ to perform their publicly stated function, and they could install malware onto your account to deepen how they track you.

Yes, Big Brother is watching you. Government and law enforcement very typically look to social networks for information regarding illegal activity.  While each site has its own rules for working with law enforcement, and some may be more comforting than others, the reality is that the search for the bad guy can often result in many good guys having private information shared broadly.

Your paycheck is at risk. Current and future employers are absolutely watching what you do online and making employment decisions based on this version of you. While employers are limited by The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) as to what information they can get from formal background checks, employers have full reign to gather whatever they can about you from informal internet searches. Be careful what you post and what you comment, even after you are hired. Many employers have social media policies to direct employees how to behave online – and hire companies that monitor online employee activity.

 

TIPS FOR GREATER PRIVACY ON SOCIAL MEDIA SITES:

  • Use a unique and strong password – one that you do not use anywhere else. How many times have you heard a friend announce that their social media account was hacked? I bet a lot. I would also bet that these hacked accounts were able to be hacked because this friend was a victim of a security breaches – where their name and password was stolen – and because they reuse passwords, the hacker was able to break-into other of their accounts. Don’t re-use passwords and use a password manager to keep your passwords organized!

Enable strong authentication. Now that you have a good password, choose the option to have a code sent to you when logging in so help prevent someone that may have gotten hold of your password form pretending to be you.

  • When setting up your profile, provide the minimum amount of personal information necessary.
  • Don’t set your account or your posts to public and be sure that you know in real life all of your friends and followers.
  • Prune your “friends” list on a regular basis. It’s easy to forget who you’ve connected to over time, and therefore who you are sharing information with.
  • Be careful sharing your birthday, age, or place of birth. This information could be useful to identity thieves and to data mining companies. If you do post your birthday, age or place of birth, restrict who has access to this information using the site’s privacy settings.
  • Use caution when using third-party applications. For the highest level of safety and privacy, avoid them completely. If you consider using one, review the privacy policy and terms of service for the application.
  • Read the social network’s privacy policy (especially if you need help falling asleep at night )– but remember, a social network can change its privacy policy at any time. Content that was posted with restrictive privacy settings may become visible when a privacy policy is altered.

More than anything, it is important to be aware of the information that you are providing on social media sites and to be conscious of the choices you make to protect your privacy. No doubt, you are being watched – but it’s entirely up to you as to what others can learn about you on social media sites!

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Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.