Social media (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat…) is free to members because the companies make money by selling targeted advertisements to their users. Ever wonder why, after “liking” a particular pair of shoes that advertisements for those very shoes/shoe brand are littered through your account? Users have been sharing for years their “likes” and “dislikes,” giving the various companies all the data they need to match an advertisement with individuals who may be interested in the particular content. Our “likes” and “dislikes” are tracked as are the posts we “share,” the groups we belong to, location information about the photos we post, and the events we attend. With all this data readily available to social media companies, it is no surprise they track it for purposes of matching users with advertisers. After all, internet advertising revenue in the United States totaled more than $107 billion dollars in 2018 and last year’s projection is even greater.
But, while targeted advertisements may be appreciated, the risk of having all of this data collected cannot be ignored. For example, data collection can be easily stolen as the past data breaches, including that suffered by Facebook in December 2019, have shown. The other, lesser appreciated issue is that bad actors are using online advertisements to effectuate identity theft. In fact, experts indicate that 10% (1 in every 10) of all online advertisements are actually “malvertisements” – an advertisement that actually serves to scam the user and/or spread malware. In fact, many of these scams are disguised as surveys from reputable companies (https://sidechannel.tempestsi.com/digital-adverstising-tools-are-being-used-to-disseminate-phishing-campaigns-eed3da31ac25).
The reality is people will continue to use social media notwithstanding these risks but is there any way to use social media while protecting one’s self? The answer is, yes. Consider the following:
- Opt out of online advertising by using resources from the Digital Advertising Alliance;
- Routinely delete cookies from your browsers;
- Delete social media accounts from your smartphone. I know this may upset users but, the mobile apps collect even more data (and real time data) than the web-based versions;
- Disable ad tracking on your computer and devices;
- Beware of advertisements from companies you do not know and do not take online quizzes; and
- Be aware of your privacy settings on these various social media accounts.
Regarding privacy settings, consider Facebook. If you go to your Settings and click “Privacy Shortcuts” you will be able to set your Account Security, Ad Preferences and Privacy settings among other settings. I encourage anyone reading this blog to take a few minutes and consult their settings on their various accounts to enhance their privacy and the potential security of their respective accounts.