Ever talked about something then suddenly see ads for it online? It happened to me on several occasions where I’d mention a product to my friend in real life, and suddenly come across an ad for it without ever looking it up! My friends went through something similar and we were recently chatting about how scary it is, because you can’t help but think your phone is spying on you and listening to your private conversations (I’m looking at you, Siri…). Ever since then I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this whole ads-coinciding-with-conversations conundrum. During Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook hearing last April 2018, he denied the use of microphones being used by Facebook to spy on your conversations for ad targeting. However, it still remains to be a pertinent question to be asked. And although there are many theories out there, I wanted to explore not just the “why” but also the “what can I do on my end to protect my information” part.
While our iPhones and Echos may not exactly be bugged out with 24/7 surveillance equipment, it is still worrying to see just how much advertisers know about us. It’s good timing too because Mark Zuckerberg’s recent statement about Facebook’s turning 15 mentions the company plans on spending more on safety and security than their whole revenue at the time of their IPO. Do I believe it will solve all our privacy concerns? Not 100% but I am intrigued to see how that goes and what progress we make this year.
And this is also how I got to this subject….that was my “ding ding ding” moment. I realized I should share my insights around online privacy & security, especially on social media. So let’s get into it —
Yes, there have been security breaches, people are concerned about their personal data online, but has this stopped business and customers alike from using these platforms? Just like I have, I’m sure you’ve heard people say they’re quitting social in view of the Cambridge Analytica breach and I’m sure you’ve seen the trending hashtag #DeleteFacebook. This got me thinking….are people actually deleting their Facebook? If so, what are they moving to instead?
According to Statista, as of the fourth quarter of 2018, Facebook had 2.32 billion monthly active users, up from 2.27 in Q3. Right now, 2.7 billion people are connected via Facebook and its services.
So clearly, just like me, many of you have decided to not delete your profile. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, but if you are going to partake in this social world, the least you can do is be informed about what the issues are and what you can do to protect yourself. We often get told things like “nothing is safe online” or “that photo will be on the internet forever” and while it could be true to some extent, it’s easy to say those things and not do something about it.
That’s the gist of this article — little tricks & tips to protect your privacy on social media. My goal here is to make you feel like you have more control over your online experience and let you know of some cool stuff along the way!
Let’s start with this:
1) You Have The Ability To Identify Which Advertisers Have Your Information On Facebook
Sounds wild, right? But Facebook gives you access to this data. Don’t worry, I’m not directing you to an FAQ page. In fact, this is quite nifty — in your settings, you can see which advertisers are targeting their ads towards you based on information they have about you.
Ready to give this a go?
Go to Facebook → Settings → Ads → Advertisers
(If you’re having trouble finding “Ads” it’s towards the bottom on the left. See Below)
Once you click on Advertisers you’ll see the advertisers who are targeting you based on a contact list they uploaded. Here’s what Facebook has to say,
“These advertisers are running ads using a contact list they or their partner uploaded that includes info about you. This info was collected by the advertiser or their partner. Typically this information is your email address or phone number.”
If you’re seeing some unusual companies that you’ve never interacted with, we’re in the same boat. This is because some businesses work with third-party companies to identify & reach customers. I had A LOT of motor companies on my list that I’ve never even heard of (which inspired my research path about why are they targeting me, and that’s how I learned about the third-party companies.) When I saw my list for the first time, I knew I wasn’t entirely comfortable with some of these companies having my information. This is partly also what fueled my research on controlling my own online experience. Although I can’t control all of it, there’s a great feeling of seeing ads knowing that I’ve done what I can to ensure I don’t see ones that are irrelevant to me and that I had some form of control in what I’m being shown.
At this point, feel free to peruse through the advertisers who have your information and go ahead and click on the little “X“ over each advertiser you want to block. If you’re interested in taking this a step further, head over to the “Your Information” section just below “Advertisers” in your ad preferences page and flick off the toggle switches related to your relationship status, employer, job title and education. All these options are turned on by default. Switch off the ones you don’t want advertisers to use to reach you. See below for reference and take control over your ad experience:
2) Think Your Account Might Be Hacked? Here’s How To Know For Sure
Something sketchy going on with your account? Give yourself some peace of mind and check if you’ve been hacked via a quick & easy tip that DOESN’T require you to change your password (phew, right?)
Head on over to your Security and Login page (https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=security)
Check out the Where You’re Logged In section and ensure all the devices mentioned are yours. If you find a device you’re not sure of, hit the triple dots by that device and click “Not You?” or “Log Out.” “Not You” will lead you to change and update your password for extra protection to your account.
Settings → Apps and devices → Recently used devices to access Twitter
Once you’re there….you know the drill.
For the rest of the platforms (Instagram, LinkedIn etc.) there’s no nifty way like Facebook & Twitter but you can always change your password and you will be emailed if these platforms suspect unusual activity.
3) Internet Quizzes May Collect More Than Your Answers
Remember all those “25 things you didn’t know about me” personality quizzes/notes we filled out on Facebook *for fun*? That survey where you revealed your middle name, favorite color and such information….it might be time to delete those notes/not take those quizzes because guess who’s hands they could fall into? Financial institutions to verify your identity or data collecting companies for unethical reasons.
Even though some of them are simply for entertainment purposes, a big chunk of these personality quizzes can be used by hackers to penetrate your account and get your personal information (like the type of browser you use, your location via IP address and all the personal details you used to create your account) through an embedded link in the quiz that can cause a security breach.
Bottom line: online quizzes collect more than just your answers. So next time you decide to enter a sweepstake or take a survey, and you aren’t 100% sure how your information will be used, better not to participate! Think twice about what information you are sharing.
4) Conduct A Social Audit
With Facebook Memories reminding us of cringe-worthy moments from years ago, it’s best to avoid those reminders by doing an audit to ensure you’re socially-cleansed. What do I mean by an audit? Think of it as a spring-cleaning of your online presence.
Even though “deleting” is not a fool-proof remedy (remember, everything you publish is on the internet forever) but it’s good to take a look back and edit/remedy those Twitter-rants or photos you’re not so proud of that live online. What I like to do is a biennial audit whenever I find some downtime. I prefer a platform-by-platform cleanse. So I normally start with Facebook and use their “Grid View” feature. You can find this tab in your Profile under Timeline
Selecting Grid View will give you the ability to sort through your content by the Date Posted, and instead of a regular list view you’re used to, you’ll see a more Instagram-like square version of your content which is a) faster & easier to load and b) makes deleting posts and photos much, much easier
I prefer to work backwards. 2007 was when I first started using Facebook so I aim to go through 2–3 years in one go and work my way from there.
I wouldn’t recommend putting time-limit or deadline on the cleanse because let’s face it, you’re looking through your data from potentially 10+ years ago, you’re going to get nostalgic and start sharing some of that content with your friends before you start deleting the cringe-worthy stuff. It also could be a good time to go through your old Facebook notes and make sure you delete the ones where you might have put in your middle name, age, favorite color and such details so they don’t fall into the wrong hands or be used against your privacy, as per point number 3.
For a Twitter Cleanse:
Settings and Privacy → Account → Your Tweet Archive → Request Your Archive.
Although this can take a little while, it’s worth the wait because now you have an excel file emailed to you from Twitter which you can conveniently peruse and scan for content you want to delete and easily locate it by day so you’re not scrolling without a purpose!
LinkedIn I won’t dive into because I’m assuming you’re not as impulsive on this professional network as you might be on your personal ones, right?
By the bye, this refresh will come in super handy when you’re seeking new job opportunities and are more privy to a social search!
A Few Parting Words:
If you really think about it, it’s a scary world. If you want, you can turn a blind eye, but social is too big to ignore and definitely intertwined (in a big way) with our daily lives. And of course, you can be opinionated about it, but for that you need to be informed. Knowledge is power is the best advice I’ve received. The more you know, the more you’ll grow. Especially in this ever-evolving, digitally-savvy world!
While this topic of privacy goes much deeper, I want to keep it light-hearted and actionable on what we can actually do, instead of simply talking about it and ending those conversations without having some action items in your agenda to gain control. At the end of the day, I’d say do what works for you, but it’s always good to be aware of the options you can control for a better social experience.
Disclaimer: I have contributed this article in my personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed in this article are mine and are not shared, supported, or endorsed in any manner by another organization, company or employer which have been, will be, or are associated with me in a professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. This is a personal post.
Thoughts on social privacy? I’d love to hear it. Feel free to drop it in the comments down below or reach out to me via Twitter.