You must have noticed how the ads you see online are magically tailored to your interests. On the Internet, nothing is a coincidence. If you wonder how the Web knows so much about you and your interests, it is by violating your privacy. There is stiff competition on the Internet, and advertisers resort to any means necessary to stay ahead in the race, even if that means secretly snooping on users and collecting private data.
Social Media Sites Are Not Free
The truth is that while social media websites advertise themselves as being free, there is actually a hidden cost that comes with using them. Social media sites have direct partnerships with advertising services. Information collected from users is sold off to these advertising partners so they can show users tailored ads on social media channels. Most often, there is no way to opt out of seeing ads. And even if you do opt out, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will not be tracked anymore. The bottom line is that many social media platforms make money by selling their users data to third-party advertisers.
How Social Media Sites Invade Your Privacy
Some of the most common ways used by social media sites to invade privacy are:
Social media sites have become notorious for tracking online activities of users and harvesting personal information. This is called data scraping. This data can be gathered from your social media profiles, as well as other websites and accounts linked to the profile, including job websites, and online forums. This information is used by advertising services to tailor relevant ads that might interest users.
Even though all information shared on public platforms like social media sites is free and open, it is mandatory to ask for the user’s consent before using that information for any other purpose. Since advertisers use personal data without the user’s consent, it is unethical and a violation of privacy.
There are many social platforms that offer users a safe environment to talk about their emotional or health issues. When that information is collected by third parties for promotional purposes it is a breach of personal space and privacy.
Leakage of Personal Data:
This is another method used to violate web privacy and harvest personal data. Facebook is most infamous for leaking users’ personal information. Facebook apps leak personal data and identifying information about users to third parties such as advertising companies without the user’s consent.
When you install any Facebook app, you are urged to accept certain terms and conditions. When you click ‘Allow’, the app gets an ‘access token’. It has been found that certain Facebook apps leak these access tokens to advertising services, giving them access to personal user data like photos and messages. This is done without the consent of the user because there is no disclaimer that says personal data is shared with third parties. Social media apps invade your privacy in this and other similar ways.
Social media platforms have several ways to track user activity. One popular way is by tracking likes, tweets, follows, and other sharing options. You think you are only sharing a post with your friends, but you are also giving third parties the opportunity to track your online activities.
This is done by putting cookies (small files that act as tracking devices) in your browser when you log into to a site. Cookies aid in tracking your activities on that site, as well as on subsequent sites that you visit soon after. Your tweets, likes, purchases, clicks, and every other activity is easily tracked by social media sites with these cookies.
Some children and teen websites are most notorious for placing cookies in browsers and also within ads to track every activity on that page. Even though cookies are mostly used to collect data for advertising purposes, this information can be easily hacked by cybercriminals and put into unethical use.
How to Be Safe?
There is no way to stop data scraping but it is possible to keep all information private. Google your name to see which sites have your information. If you find any third party site using your data collected from any social media website, ask them to remove the information and change your privacy settings.
Remove cookies from your browser after every session and be careful about what cookies you allow on your browser.
Most importantly, be careful about the apps you install. When you install apps, you give away a lot of personal data by allowing access to your phone. Always use only genuine, safe apps to protect your online security.