In recent years, as more information about how social media companies use our data has come to light, we’ve seen a growing backlash against their practices. This is not surprising. After all, who would want their personal data tracked and sold to advertisers? Though many major social media platforms have promised to better protect user data, is that the reality?
I’ve been thinking a lot about social media, the data associated with it, and the impact it has on us. Here are a few of those thoughts.
Do you know what I’ve noticed? People don’t read privacy policies. Many people don’t. They just click “agree” and move on with their lives, not realizing that they’re giving up their data to companies who promise to protect it but don’t really mean it.
Let’s take Facebook for example. Did you know that when you use Facebook Messenger, you give them permission to track your location? Even if you turn off location services on your phone, Facebook will still be able to pinpoint where you are via Wi-Fi hotspots and other means like Bluetooth.
Remember, It’s your data, not theirs.
Social media sites aren’t charities. They want something from you in exchange for all that “free” content they provide. And that something is your data. They want access to all kinds of information about who you are and how you behave online so they can better target advertising based on what they think will appeal most to YOU (not them).
They’re not really offering you anything for your data.
When it comes to social media, we’re all familiar with the concept of “free” services that require you to give up your data.
I get it. Social media is fun. It’s easy to share our lives with people who are far away and feel like they’re right there with us when they see a photo of our dinner or hear about our day at work.
But let’s be real: no one is offering you anything for your data. They’re not giving you cash back on purchases or discounts on flights or even free stuff from third-party vendors. The only thing you get from giving up your data is… more ads?
So, why do we continue to give it away? Why do we spend hours looking at photos of other people’s dogs and babies? Why do we fill out questionnaires about our favourite television shows, what kind of beer we like, and how many times a month we go to the gym?
The answer is simple: because it’s addictive. We fear missing out, so we keep giving them more and more details about ourselves until there’s nothing left to hide and then they know everything about us.
Is there a difference between selling ads and selling your data to advertisers?
It’s a good question, and the answer is yes. But let’s back up a bit.
First of all, you’re right to be sceptical about the idea that there would be a difference between making money from selling ads and selling your data to advertisers. But why should it matter? After all, they’re both ways of making money off of your information.
But when it comes to ads (even targeted ads), you still have some control over what happens with them. For example, you can choose not to click on an ad or follow a link in an ad, which means those companies won’t be able to sell your information or target you with their ads anymore. You also have control over what kind of information about yourself you share (or not) when the advertisers are targeting people most likely to buy their products.
When it comes to selling your data directly, like when someone buys access to all of your data from an app like Facebook, there aren’t many options for controlling what happens next. You can’t choose to allow them access or refuse them once they’ve paid for access. They just get everything they need from you. Next, they focus on reaching out directly (which means getting emails) or other ways of contacting people like snail mail or phone calls. You’ve just given up all control over how marketers reach and interact with you.
What about the “free internet?”
The internet is not free. It’s a tool, and tools have costs. And those costs are often hidden.
The internet is not free in terms of time. You have to spend time on it if you want to use it effectively. And if you’re not spending your time wisely, you may find yourself wasting more than you realize.
The internet is not free in terms of money. You have to pay for an internet service provider (ISP) and/or devices like phones or computers that allow access to the internet and its resources. And if you’re not careful with how much you spend on these things, they can quickly become a drain on your finances.
And finally, the internet is certainly not free in terms of privacy. Consider all the information that companies collect about your online activity: what websites you visit, what videos you watch, even where exactly on the screen you look when browsing through a page. This information can be used against you by advertisers or other entities who want to manipulate you into buying something or doing something. And many times you don’t even realize your information has been collected until it’s too late.
So how do you protect yourself?
Don’t accept the status quo or be afraid to ask for more. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. You are worth it, so don’t settle for less than what is rightfully yours.
“Don’t accept the status quo with social media and your data.”
Know what your data is worth to you. That can be tough because it depends on how much value you place on your privacy. If you don’t care about that very much, then, by all means, feel free to use social media without caution.
But if you want to keep your data private, the first step is knowing what information social media companies have access to and how they might use it against you. Next, start learning how to limit their access to that information. Another important step is learning how to remove any traces of yourself from their databases altogether.
Also, make sure that any apps or websites that collect personal information are using industry-standard encryption protocols like the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). If they aren’t using SSL, they’re probably not protecting your privacy at all. If an app or website claims that it uses SSL but doesn’t have a padlock icon in the URL bar of your browser window, then be careful. You should never give out any kind of sensitive information unless you’re absolutely sure that it’s being done safely.
While it might be too much to ask for a total revolution in how social media companies handle our personal data, it’s not too much to ask that they be more transparent. It’s not too much to ask that we all take a step back and think about what “free” internet content means and what the costs are so that we can make an informed choice about whether or not these costs are worth paying.