Social media has become one of the most powerful resources in the world for people to connect to one another. We tend to jump in, sign up and add friends and connections at the speed of our data connections – but how many of us actually pay attention to the safety and security of the information we’re sharing?
The last time you were asked to allow a site or Facebook page to “access your personal information,” did you let it? The only way to share some information is to allow these intrusions into your personal space. So what is safe? And what do you need to know about each of the major sites’ privacy policies to ensure that your information is protected at all times?
Which Social Networking Sites are Sharing Your Personal Information with Third Parties?
Out of all of the major social media networks, there are only two that have come out and stated that they do not share personally identifiable information about their users with either advertisers or potential sale/merger partners, according to the CATSMI project from the University of Victoria. Those two are Google and Foursquare. That’s it.
Now, what about those other major social networks? What types of information do Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and share – and with whom do they share it?
Facebook states that it will share personally identifiable information about its users with partners, advertisers, and developers. What does that mean for you? Basically, anyone who wishes to advertise, develop an app, or partner with Facebook will have access to all of Facebook’s users’ information.
Twitter states that it reserves the right to sell all of its users’ information or to transfer all of the data during a bankruptcy, sale, merger, or acquisition of the company. LinkedIn also has no apparent problem divulging their users’ personal information to another company as part of a sale, merger, or acquisition.
Of course, we don’t need to look any further than Tumblr to see just how vulnerable user information is, as the company recently sold all of its user information to Yahoo!
Hackers and the Threat They Pose
If you pay attention to the news when it comes to social media, you’ll know that there have been a number of repeated “hacker attacks” against the largest social networking sites in the world over the past few years. While these social media giants claim that no personally identifiable information about its users was compromised, it’s also unclear whether or not they’d reveal any data breeches in the first place.
Consider this: not one of these same companies that reported being hacked would answer a question posed to them by the University of Victoria regarding whether they would notify users if their information had indeed been accessed. What does that mean? It’s only speculation, but it seems likely that this means users would never know if a hacker did actually steal their personal information.
What about those Privacy Control Settings?
If you’re familiar with the more advanced privacy setting and features of these social media sites, you may think that your information is protected. But unfortunately, that’s not what those privacy settings are for. In-network privacy features allow you to keep your information from being accessed by other users. They provide no extra controls or restraints regarding third parties and what the social media companies themselves may do with your personal information.
How to Protect Your Personal Information
When it comes down to it, there is a limit to what you can do to protect your personal information when using social media sites. Advertisers on these sites have become so sophisticated that they’re able to target your interests more accurately – based not only on what you post and “Like,” but also on the websites that you visit when you’re not even connected to the social network.
The first step to protecting yourself is to avoid using personally identifiable information whenever possible. You may want to use your full name to display as your profile name, but if you don’t, don’t share your first and last name when signing up for a site. Instead, use your first and middle name.
Next, set up a secondary email account – separate from the one you share with family and friends. Use this as a spam email account and have this set as your primary email address within your profiles. That way, when the social media company actually does share your personally identifiable information, you won’t have to worry about your primary email being inundated with junk mail or becoming susceptible to hacker attacks.
Third, use a virtual private network (VPN). Your Internet service provider (ISP) is the company through which you access the Internet. Your information – including your computer’s IP address (its unique signature, in effect) – can be accessed whenever you visit a website. Companies can use this information to track where you live, what websites you visit, and other personal information about your identity.
By using a VPN to log on to the Internet, you effectively hide all of that personal information from companies, hackers, and anyone else who’s looking to gain access to it. A VPN typically has a host of private IP addresses and when you go through the VPN, you will be assigned one of them for the time you’re connected. This prevents your actual IP address – and all the information connected to it – from being revealed to prying eyes.
Of course, you can always remain protected by avoiding these social media sites. But if you wish to remain connected to friends and family or desire to network with other people and businesses who share your interests, then social media is a vital component to consider. And since these companies won’t protect your personal information for you, it’s up to you to take the necessary steps to keep it safe and in your complete control. You deserve the right to determine who will have access to your information!