Social media is here to stay, and with each passing day, it plays a greater role in our lives. That’s why privacy on social media has never been more important. The way you use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the other social networks can have major impacts on your life, good or bad.
With a little bit of knowledge and a small dose of caution, however, you can enjoy all the benefits of social media with few of the risks. 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. A compromised social media account makes for an appealing target: if they can get into your Facebook or Twitter account, they can impersonate you.
Why are they interested in your social media accounts? Because it’s a much more effective way to spread viruses, malware, and scams than more traditional email spam. People tend to trust messages they get from their social media friends. They are more likely to click links without thinking twice, which can then infect their computers.
Even worse than malware is when cybercriminals use social media for identity theft. Our private social profiles contain a wealth of personal information, which can be leveraged to open credit card accounts in your name or otherwise abuse your digital identity.
2. Stalking and harassment
Not all social media privacy threats come from strangers. Sometimes, people in your life turn out to be less than friendly. Online stalking and cyberbullying have become very well-known threats, and social media makes them very easy to perpetrate.
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
Unfortunately, there are situations where you may be asked to turn over access to your social media accounts. One of the most common is upon starting a new job. There has been a growing trend toward employers asking for access to social media accounts, to ensure that employees aren’t sharing confidential information or trade secrets.
There have been a number of efforts at the state level to prevent companies from requesting this information. In 2016 alone, there were 39 state bills targeting this behavior. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them have failed.
Hopefully this trend will soon reverse. 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 when employers have access to an individual’s social media accounts.
4. Walking a fine line between effective marketing and privacy intrusion
The debate over whether social media advertising works is over. 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, 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.
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 in 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.