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Top five social media privacy concerns

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by Staff Writer

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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. Here are some privacy concerns you should watch out for.

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.

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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.

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Unfortunately, there is a dark side to all of this targeting. Already, Facebook has faced criticism over its ad targeting engine, which in some cases was illegally discriminating against certain types of people.

Facebook and other social media companies are trying to adapt, but there are 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:

  1. Use strong passwords, and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts.
  2. Don’t use social media on public devices, and if you must, make sure to log out afterward.
  3. Disable access to geolocation data for your social media apps.
  4. Be wary about clicking links from friends in social media; you never know if they’ve been hacked.
  5. Use two-factor authentication or password-reset checks for all your accounts.
  6. Even on your private social profiles, keep personal information to a minimum.