Social media and privacy just don’t go together. But just because you use social media doesn’t mean you can’t have an online life and some degree of privacy.
Some of you may feel that privacy and social media just don’t go together. From our own oversharing to company overreach, this article covers some of the biggest privacy issues with social media and how you can try to avoid them.
1. Oversharing Personal Information
When it comes to social media privacy, we are our own first line of defense. Even if you have your profile set to viewing by friends only, you should be conservative with the information you share.
Information you should never add to your social media profile includes:
- Your home address
- Your phone number or personal email address
- Any financial information
- Exact location tags
- Images that make your house identifiable from the street
- Images of children that make their schools identifiable
- Exact travel dates and information about when you’ll be out of the house
How to Avoid Oversharing Personal Information
When it comes to platforms like Facebook, you should make sure that your profile, information, and posts are only viewable by friends.
If you aren’t using your Twitter or Instagram account to attract a public following, you can set these profiles to private. This means you get control over who can follow you and, therefore, who can see your content.
If you have uploaded private details to your social media accounts, you should remove them as soon as possible to avoid them from possibly being exploited.
Another way to avoid oversharing is to avoid using the social media networks to perform searches. Instead of looking for a subject from within Facebook or Twitter, instead use a proxy search engine like Startpage.com. The reason is that everything you do on a social media network is recorded and used to shape a profile on you.
2. Authorizing Untrustworthy Apps
Many people use third-party apps with their social media accounts. These range from scheduling apps for social media posts to mobile games that sync with your social media account.
However, third-party apps are also a popular tool used by data miners to access your personal information. The data miners analyze and repackage that information in order to sell it to advertisers.
In the worst cases, these third-party apps can be used to expose you to malware, access sensitive data, or post content without your permission.
How to Avoid Malicious Apps
When authorizing a third-party app, there are a few things you should do to protect your privacy. These include:
- Never use apps that claim to unlock hidden or secret functions
- Avoid quizzes that require you to log in with social media
- Always check the permissions that the app is requesting
- Only authorize apps from reputable developers
- When trying a new app, first check with people you know to see whether they have used it before
Every few weeks, you should also check which apps have access to your various profiles. This information is usually found in your privacy settings. Here you will be able to revoke access to any apps that you no longer use.
3. Social Media Privacy: The Friend Loophole
While it may seem harmless to add people you don’t know on social media, this can open you up to various privacy issues.
For example, scammers may use fake accounts for spear-phishing campaigns. By adding a person on a platform such as Facebook, they can glean information that will make scam emails more convincing.
Another way it can compromise your security is when apps are able to access your information through a friend’s account. This is what made the Cambridge Analytica scandal so shocking. Most people whose information was harvested didn’t even take the quiz that was used to mine data.
Rather, the Facebook quiz used a loophole to access the information of all the friends of people who took the quiz. While Facebook has tightened up privacy on the network in this regard, the various ways friends can compromise our privacy is still very much a concern.
How to Avoid “Friendly” Scams
To try to mitigate the risk friends pose to your own account on these networks, you should avoid accepting connection requests from strangers. You also should do a routine cleanup of your connection list to remove people that you’re not really interested in staying connected with.
4. Hackers Using Social Media as a Tool
There are various ways that hackers can use your social media account to compromise your security.
A few popular ways hackers use social media to target victims include:
- Hacking accounts to harvest passwords that may be reused on other accounts
- Catfishing scams, where someone pretends to be someone they’re not
- Sending malware links through private messages
How to Avoid Getting Scammed
The first step to preventing hackers from using your social media account against you is to never reuse your password across accounts. Very few networks are infallible when it comes to breaches and leaks. Once your password and email get compromised on one site, it’s compromised on all sites.
Furthermore, you should never click on random links sent to your social media inbox. If you think that the link is legitimate, it doesn’t hurt to confirm that the person you’re interacting with actually sent it. Send your real-life friend an email, text message, or direct message to verify that they indeed have messaged you.
It could save you from visiting a scam site or having malware injected into your browser. Yes, your computer can become compromised just by visiting the wrong link.
5. Changing Terms of Service
As revenue models and business structures change, social media networks may adjust their terms of services. This is especially true when one company acquires another.
For example, when Facebook acquires a company, its user data is often shared with Facebook’s advertising network. The company’s terms may also change to fit into the new vision of its parent company—something that is currently happening with WhatsApp under Facebook’s ownership.
How to Avoid Having Your Data Harvested
You should periodically do a review of your social account privacy settings and the platform’s terms to mitigate how much of your data is being shared.
There’s not always much you can do. For example, not much is going to stop Facebook from sharing its psychographic profile on you across its various advertising platform.
However, you can keep up-to-date with the ways your data is being used and try to reduce how much information a company gathers. Furthermore, you can switch to more privacy-centric service if a company’s new vision no longer aligns with the protection of your privacy.
Guard Your Privacy on Social Media
You won’t be able to prevent data breaches or overreach from nosy companies, but you can take steps to mitigate the risks that social media poses to your privacy. Another option is using a VPN. While it doesn’t fully protect against being profiled by a social media network, a VPN can disguise the country of where your traffic originates.