It’s hard to recall what life was like before social media. Since the early 2000s, social media has grown to become a useful way for us to connect, collaborate and share information. In the midst of this evolution, social networking sites use data tracking as a valuable business tool, providing information about the behaviors, actions and preferences of potential customers.
Any information gathered from social media can be used to categorize you into user segments and be sold for marketing purposes by data brokers. You could be categorized as a ‘fitness enthusiast’ or ‘football fanatic’ which will guide marketers when advertising to you. Not only that, but cybercriminals can use information they find on your social media profiles to steal your identity and use it to scam others.
So, you may be wondering, “What type of data are they tracking, how do they track it, and how can I protect myself?” Read on to find out.
What Types of Data Does Social Media Track?
It’s no surprise that many of us aren’t even aware of the amount of data that is collected about us. Social media platforms track a variety of data about their users, some of which are necessary for the platform to function. Others are used to personalize ads and content, but aren’t actually necessary for the app or website’s function. Here some of the types of data social media tracks:
- Demographic information such as age, gender, location and language
- Behavioral and usage information such as a user’s search history and how they interact
- Personal information such as name, birthdate, IP address, photos and videos, contact lists and device type
How Does Social Media Track Data?
Social networking sites use data tracking cookies to collect your information. These cookies follow you around the web and log your browsing activity. Those cookie alert pop ups that you see on most sites these days are helping to make us conscious of the consent we give companies when we accept their cookies and agree to their terms and conditions. Once this information about you is collected, social media sites then use artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the data and sort its feed to show posts and ads that you tend to like or share.
How Can You Protect Your Privacy and Data?
Unfortunately, the best way to protect your privacy and data on social media is to not use it at all, which isn’t practical for most of us who use it to stay connected with family and friends. Although it’s nearly impossible to remain anonymous on social media, there are a few things you can do to mask your identity and protect your data:
- Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) to disguise your device type, IP address and browsing activity. A VPN encrypts your data helping you stay private online.
- Use a pseudonym or alias on social media. For example, you can use a fake name and generic profile picture to hide your real identity. However, be aware that cybercriminals also use this tactic to carry out scams.
- Regularly review and update your security and privacy settings. Turn on multi-factor authentication and make sure that only people who you know and trust can see your posts. Also consider turning off location tracking in your device and app settings.