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Social Media and User Privacy

Posted by on Jun 18, 2013

Social media has allowed businesses to tap into consumer data shared by users. In the past, businesses looking for marketing data had to rely on costly surveys. Today, consumers actively and freely share personal information on their favorite products and services across a wide range of social media. On Facebook, users provide advertisers with all sorts of information, from addresses and photos to employers and favorite brands. Users give away their exact location through apps like Foursquare and even share their latest exercise programs on apps like Runkeeper. But with the rampant practice of selling user data to advertisers, users that want to preserve elements of their privacy should be aware of how their data is being used while proactively protecting their sensitive information, photos, and files with a private cloud service.

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Recently, Facebook expanded its Like function throughout the web so that Likes across a variety of participating sites will be transferred instantly to user Facebook pages as well as to the pages of their friends. Personal user information is now shared with Facebook’s business partners including Microsoft, Yelp, and Pandora. In a statement by Facebook preparing users for the privacy policy changes that would usher in a new era of social media advertising, the company stated, “In the proposed privacy policy, we’ve also explained the possibility of working with some partner websites that we pre-approve to offer a more personalized experience at the moment you visit the site. In such instances, we would only introduce this feature with a small, select group of partners and we would also offer new controls.” However, like most changed with Facebook, users are automatically signed up for these “voluntary” sharing of user information and turning off the auto-share function while blocking data sharing with third-party sites is so complicated that most users don’t even bother.

Chris Messina of Factory City

Photo courtesy of FactoryJoe.com

As Factory City blogger Chris Messina says, “When all likes lead to Facebook, and liking requires a Facebook account, and Facebook gets to hoard all of the metadata and likes around the interactions between people and content, it depletes the ecosystem of potential and chaos — those attributes which make the technology industry so interesting and competitive. … It’s dishonest to think that the Facebook Open Graph Protocol benefits anyone more than Facebook — as it exists in its current incarnation, with Facebook accounts as the only valid participants. As I and others have said before, your identity is too important to be owned by any one company.” But that’s exactly the situation many users are finding themselves in today, with Facebook monopolizing and capitalizing on what most users think is private and personal information.

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For soldiers, sharing on social media sites poses an even greater danger than having user data exploited for profit. While users on sites like Facebook are accustomed to posting the occasional inappropriate picture, soldiers that post photos could inadvertently disclose sensitive information that could cost lives. Status updates on military missions are another way that classified information could be leaked. Even soldiers that are off duty must be wary of what they choose to share with social media, as Staff Sergeant Dale Sweetnam of the Online and Social Media Division of the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs stated. Sweetnam said, “Once it’s out there, it’s out there…You can delete it, but if the wrong person took a screen shot, that’s actionable intelligence and you can’t get that back.”

And Facebook isn’t the only social media site that seeks to profit from sharing personal user information. Recently launched, UberAds tracks any shared information from smartphone users across the web, offering customized ads tailored to a given user’s particular interests. The company searches sites and apps like Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest to determine which ads to send. Brands that have already signed on for UberAds include BMW, Pizza Hut, H&M, and Macy’s.

From Public to Private

Social media users can still take part in the networking opportunities social media provides while protecting their most private information from exploitation. The first step is making sure privacy settings are tailored for your comfort level. Then take down anything you don’t want shared with advertisers or any third parties. After that, find a private cloud service to backup your private photos and files you don’t want getting out. But choosing the right third party cloud service can be a challenge as many cloud services on the market have glaring security gaps that leave private user data vulnerable to third party attacks and even internal exploitation. One cloud service provider that sets itself apart from the market is SpiderOak. This private cloud offers the convenience of cloud storage along with 100% data privacy and user anonymity.

SpiderOak protects sensitive user information through two-factor password authentication and 256-bit AES encryption so that files and passwords stay private. Two-factor authentication is just like the process used by some banking services that require a PIN as an extra precaution along with a password in order to successfully log in. With SpiderOak, users that choose to use two-factor authentication must submit a private code through SMS along with their unique encrypted password. Users can store and sync personal information with complete privacy, because this cloud service has absolutely “zero-knowledge” of passwords or data. Plaintext encryption keys are exclusively stored on the user’s chosen devices, so social media fans can rest easy knowing their data won’t be exploited by the latest ad scheme. SpiderOak’s private cloud services are available on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms, along with Android and iOS mobile devices.

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