This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
Social media plays a greater role in our lives with each passing day. As such, privacy on these networks has never been more important. What you do and say on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn can significantly affect your life, for better or for worse.
However, you can enjoy the benefits of social media with few of the risks if you have a little bit of knowledge and a small dose of caution.
Before we get into the privacy concerns and what to do about them, let’s touch on the basics first and provide some context about social media.
What is social media?
Social media is a powerful tool that allows individuals to connect with others and share information online. It has become an integral part of our everyday lives, revolutionizing the way we communicate and interact with the world.
One of the major players in the social media landscape is Facebook.
Launched in 2004, Facebook has transformed the way we connect with friends, family, and even strangers.
It provides a platform for users to create personal profiles, share photos and videos, and communicate through private messages or public posts.
Despite its popularity, Facebook has faced numerous concerns over the years regarding privacy issues.
These online privacy concerns stem from the large amount of personal data that users willingly share on the platform. From email addresses to personal details, Facebook makes money by collecting a vast amount of information about its users.
This data has raised questions about the privacy implications and how this data is used by the company.
In response to these concerns, Facebook has implemented various privacy protections and settings, allowing users to control their profile visibility and choose who can see their posts.
However, the default privacy settings, which often favor greater visibility and expose user behaviors to potential abuse, have been a subject of criticism.
While social media provides a convenient means of staying connected and sharing information, it is crucial for users to be mindful of their privacy settings and their rights.
As we discussed earlier, Facebook reigns supreme with over 3.03 billion monthly active users. It offers a wide range of features, including profiles, groups, events, and a personalized news feed.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is a visually focused platform with over 1 billion users. It is known for its photo- and video-sharing capabilities, as well as its story feature.
Twitter, with 330 million monthly active users, is a microblogging platform that allows users to share short messages (tweets) with their followers.
LinkedIn differentiates itself as a professional networking platform, enabling users to showcase their work experience, connect with colleagues and industry professionals, and search for job opportunities.
Lastly, Snapchat is a popular multimedia messaging app, known for its disappearing messages and augmented reality filters.
These platforms have revolutionized the way we communicate and stay connected, providing opportunities for businesses, individuals, and organizations to reach a global audience. With such popularity, it is crucial for you to be aware of these platforms’ privacy settings and policies to protect your personal information online.
- Twitch has also seen substantial growth, with a 29% increase in usage.
- TikTok continues to grow, with a 16% increase in usage, maintaining its place among the most popular social media apps.
- True is highlighted as an emerging platform, offering private communication threads free of targeted ads.
Now that we have a better understanding of social media and some of the newer platforms to pay attention to, here are some privacy concerns you should watch out for as you navigate them for your business or personal use.
1. Account hacking and impersonation
Increasingly, spammers, hackers, and other online criminals are targeting social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and using them to carry out a variety of cyberattacks.
Once threat actors have access to your account, they can impersonate you and use the trust you’ve built up with your followers to get them to download malware or give up confidential information.
Cybercriminals also use the wealth of personal information in your social profile to commit identity theft. For example, bad actors might open lines of credit in your name and use this new credit card or loan to make major purchases and not pay the bills, thus destroying your credit history.
Often, thieves and scammers steal your identity without your knowledge. In fact, many people don’t realize there is a problem until they are turned down for a loan or start receiving calls from creditors demanding payment for things they never bought.
Even more alarming, bad actors can find out your Social Security number and use it to steal your federal tax refund or Social Security check.
2. Stalking and harassment
Social media is a gift to stalkers and harassers in that it often provides them with a detailed description of what you do and where you go. As such, the more you share on social media, the more vulnerable you are to physical and cyberattacks.
In one recent incident, a woman who broke up with her boyfriend was horrified to discover some time afterward that he had broken into her Instagram account and posted transcripts of private messages about their relationship and other personal information. He also changed the account password so she couldn’t log back in, shared the information on other social networks, and then accused her of spreading it herself.
By the time she was able to access her accounts, thousands of friends, acquaintances, and professional contacts had seen her private information. It was a privacy nightmare on multiple levels.
She had never given out her password to the ex, so he gained access by hacking her accounts or guessing her password.
3. Being compelled to turn over passwords
Occassionally, employers ask job applicants and new hires for access to their social media accounts, usually to help in the candidate screening process or to ensure that employees aren’t sharing confidential information or trade secrets.
While over half of states have passed laws prohibiting this behavior, this leaves job seekers in those other states at risk of having their privacy invaded.
Hopefully, the rest of the states will soon address this issue. As people increase the amount of information they share on social media websites, the need for heightened security and privacy controls also increases. The potential for abuses and privacy violations is just too high.
4. Walking a fine line between effective marketing and privacy intrusion
Advertisers pumped billions of dollars into social media ads last year, and with all that investment comes the desire to target users more accurately.
Unfortunately, all this targeting means that social platforms sometimes encounter conflicting interests between serving their paying advertising customers and their social media users.
Balancing the needs of both is difficult to do, even when there isn’t a financial incentive in place.
As a result, it is likely that we will continue to see increased attempts at information gathering and privacy intrusions for the purposes of targeted marketing, even with the approaching demise of third-party cookies.
5. The privacy downside of location-based services
Most of today’s social media users don’t access the services on a traditional computer, they do it on their smartphones.
As social media continues to take advantage of mobile devices and location-based services, the potential for privacy and security threats increases.
In fact, most people’s smartphones automatically collect location data continuously, and social media apps are some of the heaviest users of this data.
Without the guidance of fine-tuned legislation and privacy laws, social media services have a lot of leeway for how they use this data.
There are more than a few examples of people being targeted by thieves or stalkers due to geo-location data automatically shared by their social media apps.
After all, what more could a burglar ask for than to know when you’re on vacation, far away from your home?
Privacy protection: quick tips
What can you do to protect your privacy on social media? Here are a few quick suggestions:
- Use strong passwords, and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts.
- Don’t use social media on public devices, and if you must, make sure to log out afterward.
- Disable access to geolocation data for your social media apps.
- Be wary about clicking links from friends on social media; you never know if they’ve been hacked.
- Use two-factor authentication or password-reset checks for all your accounts.
- Even on your private social profiles, keep personal information to a minimum.
As social media continues to permeate our lives, the need for privacy protection has never been more critical.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and emerging platforms like BeReal and TikTok are shaping our communication, and their influence underscores the importance of being well-informed and cautious when taking into account the plethora of privacy concerns, such as account hacking, stalking, and privacy intrusion through advertising.
It emphasizes the need for us to be proactive in protecting our personal information online. A good way to get started is to use our free reputation report card. It works instantly, giving you an exact replica of how others see you online right now.
In a few clicks, you can easily see any reputation concerns you have and address them right away.