Protect your privacy when using social media

NEW YORK ­ — Social media has completely revolutionized the way people communicate. Social media has all but eliminated the constraints of geography and done much to connect people from all corners of the globe.

While those are positive side effects of social media, there are some disadvantages to social media, including the effect social media can have on individuals’ privacy.

Photos and other personal information are routinely shared on popular forums like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr.
While geography once dictated a person’s social network, social media has now enabled people to build vast networks of friends without regard to geography.

According to polling data collected by Browser Media, Socialnomics and MacWorld, 98 percent of people between 18 and 24 use social media, and nearly 60 percent of people have admitted to routine use of social media.

It’s easy for social media users to let their guards down when sharing information online, and even those who are especially careful know that privacy can be compromised online.

So it’s important social media users make themselves aware of the potential pitfalls of sharing information on social media platforms, and understand how to protect themselves and their reputations.

Mergers and add-ons

Social media has experienced a rapid growth over the last several years. As new companies muscle their way into the market, some already-established platforms are growing ever more powerful. Social media startups may be acquired by larger companies, and in such instances information is often merged.

In the rush to be bigger and better, certain privacy features may be overlooked, or privacy components native to one application may not carry over when the two merge.

Similarly, as sites continue to grow, they may partner with outside vendors and services, further increasing the opportunity for data sharing. Social media consumers need to be diligent about checking privacy settings, especially when platforms merge.

Geotagging

Digital devices are packing even more features into their tiny plastic-covered shells. Location-sharing settings are one of these features, which enable tracking of the digital device to a particular global position.

Location sharing enables sites to customize advertising to your location, or even just let you know the weather when you log on.

However, these same features also may imbed a digital stamp on images, called metadata, taken with the phone, camera or tablet. This metadata will tell things like the type of device used to capture the image, the settings and, if the device has a GPS receiver, even the location.

When an image taken on a digital device is posted on a social media site, anyone with access to the photo may be able to determine the specific location where the photo was taken.

While some social media sites automatically strip metadata from uploaded photos, social media users may thwart these safety features by checking in or manually posting their locations alongside images.

It’s not uncommon for a person to post an image of a family member and tag it with a location and explanation. If you are not careful, anyone who has access to your photos and information can figure out your whereabouts, which can potentially compromise your privacy.

Data mining

Advertisers and application developers use information garnered through social media for a variety of purposes. This is called data mining.

Many of the games or entertainment features of social media sites are used by third-party companies to gather information about the people playing the games, putting those people’s potentially sensitive information at risk.

While you may not be so fast to provide your email address and birthday to online marketers, you may be indirectly and unknowingly providing such information if you aren’t careful about what you’re doing on social media.

If you don’t know who is requesting your information, do not share it, and be wary of games or other popular social media items you suspect of data mining.

Photos in advertisements

Although many of the rumors in regard to Facebook and other social media sites allowing third-party use of personal photos are false, there is still the chance a personal image can show up elsewhere.

Disreputable third-party applications may still access photos and use them without permission before social media sites crack down on them. It’s important to remember that the Internet cannot be scrubbed clean, so any information you post online may come back to haunt you in the future. If you don’t want something to be public, then do not post it.

Protect privacy

Social media has made a significant and, in many ways, positive impact on society. But social media users still must take steps to protect their privacy when going online.

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