Why social media is a privacy nightmare

Social media is not as private as you think. Despite many efforts to create transparency in app privacy terms, loopholes still remain. These include vague legal jargon, data used for “academic purposes,” over-the-top information collection, and many more.

Before we start our journey through the privacy nightmares of social media, I have a few questions for you in the mini-quiz below. Consider these questions as you read through the article. In the end, I’ll show you the results of what other people answered!

Quick! Take this quiz before reading

  • Did you know there are five main types of phishing? 
  • Have you ever been phished before? 
  • Do you know someone who’s been phished before? 
  • Do you use a strong password?
  • Do you use two-factor authentication?
  • Do you check the sender of an email before clicking on any attachments or links? 
  • Do you think you know enough about phishing scams?

    Is there such a thing as social media privacy? 

    No. At least not according to researchers from the University of Adelaide and University of Vermont. They say that even deleting your social media account doesn’t necessarily mean you will increase your social media privacy. 

    The researchers claim that they can predict your activities and interests with 95% accuracy without using your own information. How? By using your social media ties only.

    Yes, your friends, colleagues, and other people you spend time with can reveal what you like. If one of you posts a selfie on a social media platform tagging your location and everyone else in the photo – the algorithm knows.

    How does social media affect our privacy? 

    How does social media affect our privacy? 

    Social media is an open door into your world. After all, the information you provide is out in the open. It is also a bridge between you and third parties like ad brokers or product companies.

    Your data is valuable. That’s why ad brokers treat the information on your social media profile as a resource.

    This negatively affects the online privacy of not only you but also your social media ties. I’m not trying to be a fearmonger here either. I only suggest that you should care!

    Why is social media privacy important?

    Social media privacy is only important if you care about who could potentially be tracking and using your data. I’d argue that privacy is important for the following reasons:

    1. Reason 1: Social profiling

    Companies profit from everything you post and tweet about. What’s worse is that even after deleting your account, you’ve left a digital footprint that can still be tracked.

    One example of large-scale social profiling was the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The company allegedly received data from 50 million Facebook users to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

    This data was said to have been harvested and used for “academic” purposes. In the end, the story remains obscure. Who’s actually to blame? Facebook’s lack of disclosure will keep us guessing. 

    2. Reason 2: Cyberstalking


    Being on social media instantly gives hackers access to your information. According to the Pew Trust, 13 percent of Americans have had their social media accounts taken over by an unauthorized user. 

    This is like a gold mine for hackers. The more you expand your bio, post, and write, the more ammo hackers will have to tailor phishing scams for you. 

    Such information can also be used to guess your passwords. What was your first car? What is the name of your first pet? And so on. It’s all on social media!

    3. Reason 3: Identity theft and personal financial losses

    People can pretend to be you. All it takes is gathering enough personally identifiable information (PII). This can include your SSN, full name, passport information, race, date of birth, zip code, and similar data.

    Hackers can use such information to commit all sorts of fraud. Most often, this leads to financial losses for the victim.

    Dealing with identity theft is a stressful experience. So, make sure you don’t accidentally share such information through pictures on social media! In fact, the less information there is on social media about you – the better.

    The privacy quiz: Surfshark followers on Instagram and Twitter  

    Remember those questions at the beginning of the article? I’ll unravel the secret. The questions reveal ways to protect your online social life. Here’s how some of the Surfshark followers fared on Instagram and Twitter:

    Overall, half of our respondents knew someone who’s been phished before. However, the majority said they’ve never experienced it themselves.

    Overall, Twitter followers said they were more knowledgeable about phishing than Instagrammers. Interestingly, both groups admitted that only half of them use strong passwords.

    Still, the knowledge gap for staying safe online is still wide on the Internet. A big portion of the respondents admitted that they lack sufficient knowledge about staying safe online. 

    Let’s address that!

    Six ways to protect your online and social lives

    Since our information online is not private, we need to take matters into our own hands. Namely, there are six ways you can enhance your online privacy and minimize social media risks.

    1. Use a strong password.

    Using strong passwords will ensure the safety of your accounts. This way, hackers won’t be able to brute force their way through your defenses. It will help you avoid possible financial and reputational losses.

    Use a strong password

    Strong passwords are difficult to remember. That’s why I recommend using a password manager. It will protect all login details with a single strong password that you’ll need to memorize by heart.

    2. Use multi-factor authentication.

    Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is your second line of defense when it comes to passwords. Always have MFA on your social media and other accounts. It can save you a headache if someone gets hold of your credentials. 

    3. Check emails (sender, attachments, links, encryption, etc.).

    Hackers have multiple ways to get your email, and social media is one of them. They can use the information from your profile to tailor messages for you. This technique is called phishing and it’s really deadly!

    Be sure to check all links, attachments, and sender information before opening any emails. Even if they make perfect sense to you!

    4. Know your phishing scams.

    Phishing scams come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they come with emails or URL links, other times with both on a spear aimed right at you.

    Here are explainers on different types of phishing from our blog:

    1. How to recognize a phishing email
    2. What is URL phishing
    3. What is spear phishing

    So far, there aren’t better methods to avoid phishing scams than to simply know what to look out for. Due diligence and knowledge are your answers when it comes to phishing!

    5. Don’t share sensitive information.

    The best way to protect yourself on social media is not to share personal information in the first place. No joke.

    If you don’t give hackers ammo, they won’t be able to take shots at you. Don’t be an open book on the Internet and especially social media! It can cost you an arm and a leg.

    6. Use a VPN. 

    A VPN can help you increase your general privacy online. It will prevent sites, ad brokers, and ISPs from tracking your actions when you surf the web.

    However, a VPN doesn’t control what information you put out about yourself on social media. Stay vigilant and use privacy tools responsibly!

    Don’t neglect your digital safety 

    Social media is far from private. What’s worse is that many people don’t know how to protect their valuable data. This allows ad brokers and hackers to exploit us where we’re most vulnerable.

    However, you can minimize these risks by controlling what and how much information you reveal about yourself online. We can also use protection like better passwords, MFA, and a VPN to improve our security and privacy.

    Don’t wait. Protect yourself today!

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