Today, most of the major social media sites host hundreds of millions of active monthly users each. In fact, Facebook has entered a unique territory where it can be termed as the biggest ‘country’ if it were to be placed in the list of countries. Instagram has 1 billion, Twitter has over 336 million, LinkedIn has 250 million, and Pinterest also has 250 million active monthly users.
An average person spends around 2 hours a day on social networking sites. As big as social networking sites have become, they get access to the unprecedented volume of user data.
Social Media & Your Personal Data
From the moment you create your profile on a social networking site, you are giving away key data to them. Even when you spend your time on a website, engaging in different activities – likes, shares, statuses, making friends, or uploading content, you are giving away data to the site. Social networks also access information about your computer system, browser, and additional factors. All this data can be used for various purposes including advertising, developing new applications, for content curation, or even for third-party use.
Thus social media can gain a lot of information about you without you ever realizing how much data you are giving away.
What Kind of Data Can Social Media Access?
In order to get an idea of what social media websites know about you, it will help to take the case of Facebook. With over 2.27 billion active monthly users, the social network has access to the following information:
- The videos & photos you post.
- Anything you like.
- Any comments you make.
- Any content that you share.
- Your location.
- Your interests.
- The identity of all your friends.
- The identity of those you interact with.
Third-Party Data Access
Almost all social media sites allow third-party sources to develop applications based on the user data available to them. While you have some control over what data can be shared with these parties, any information in your public profile can be accessed without your permission. For example, in some cases, the entire social media profile page can be accessed by third-party sources. Even in the case of private profiles, your first name, last name, and profile photo may not require authorization.
Most social networks claim not selling identifiable data to advertisers. However, there is no assurance regarding the same. Once a third-party source has mined data from social media sites, the websites no longer have any control over it. The only data that is outside the access of third-party sources is any financial information related to a user.
Growing Privacy Concerns
There have been growing privacy concerns from online users. Traditionally, people have raised concerns about the use of their personal data by social media sites and how their posts ended up in search results. Recent legislation such as the GDPR has laid down more stringent regulations for all businesses to protect user data and provide them with more control over their information.
Most of the social giants now offer partially transparent privacy settings that can be controlled by users. However, many users can still find their privacy being threatened when they come across content or ads targeted at them. You can still come across content that gives out clear signals that social media sites know much more about you than you can imagine.
Thus, social media sites and governments have a lot more to do to protect user data and to give them peace of mind about their information.