Protecting Your Private Information on Social Media:
Why it Matters & What Steps to Take.
Why does it Matter?
Most of us have likely been told over and over again that we need to keep all of our profiles and information as private as possible on social media. Due to comments like this, you might have the general idea that it matters to be safe on the internet but you may not know exactly what the risks are or why it matters so much.
The main reason that internet safety is important is exactly why you might think - to keep you safe. There are a few different types of risks that you are opening yourself up to by sharing personal information which ranges from having a higher chance of being hacked to a potential or your location being found by someone who should not have it.
As a person offers up more and more information online, it is just increasing the chances that someone and something nefarious can invade your privacy. Besides just these safety risks, having too much information posted online can also be a risk to your reputation or desirability when potential employers may visit those sites.
How Much Control Do I Actually Have over My Information?
This is the question that more & more people have been asking as time has gone on & individuals have grown increasingly aware of the amount of data on them that is collected and shared, stored, or used by search engines and brands alike. This exact concern is why there has been a strong push for a broad data privacy law that helps to protect the information of U.S. citizens beyond just within the healthcare system with PHI.
In the EU, we have seen GDPR pave the way for this type of legislation, and more recently we’ve seen several individual states within the U.S. work towards passing a law of this nature to cover their residents.
But until we have a broad sweeping data privacy law here in the U.S., we will take a look at what to do personally to protect your information. Realistically, it’s not possible to restrict and control your data via social media or internet usage entirely and guarantee that no one can access or hold your data.
Plus, even if you were able to scrub your print from the internet and operate off the grid, there is no guarantee that a friend or family member won’t share some form of your personal information on their social networks whether purposely or accidentally. But before you get discouraged that you can’t entirely guarantee your privacy on social media - there are certainly things you can do and steps you can take to increase your privacy and decrease the risks to your data.
Let’s go through the most important tips to follow to use social media in a safe manner.
1. Generate Unique Passwords for Each Account
Many say that this is the most important step to protect your personal information online. Having unique and complex passwords helps to decrease your chances of being hacked in the first place, however, if your passwords are distinct between websites then if your password is compromised on one site, the other accounts will be safe.
Along with this, be cautious of allowing your devices to remember all of your passwords, especially for important websites such as your bank.
2. Adjust Privacy Settings to Fit your Requirements
Each social media platform will come with their own default privacy settings. Sometimes they err on the side of extremely secure, but often times the default settings provide information access to third parties. Either way, you should read through these settings, understand what each piece means, and then tailor those settings to fit you as necessary.
3. Disable Location Services
As we’ve mentioned above, the many tips within this article are all centered around your privacy and security, but this piece of it also deals heavily with your legitimate physical and personal safety. Many social media platforms, applications, or web pages use your location for some aspect of targeted ads or notifying you of their events or deals in your area.
A few examples you may recognize are "Snapmaps" through Snapchat, location tags on Instagram posts, or Facebook messenger location usage. Even beyond these more recognizable uses of your location within social media, apps are likely utilizing and even sharing your location in many unknown ways.
Luckily, on any site or platform, you should have the ability to turn this off within the settings. Be sure to check these settings in all of the social media platforms that you use in case you have unknowingly allowed this to continue.
4. Monitor Friend/Follower Lists Closely
Circling back to a piece of advice you likely heard when social media was first coming onto the scene was that you should only accept friend or follow requests from people that you know and trust in real life, and that still rings true! If you are sharing private information about yourself, or any details of your location on your account then it is important to trust the people that you are sharing that information with.
Alternatively, if you choose to have a public profile or to accept requests from those how you don’t know, then it will be all the more important to limit the amount of personal information that you share on social media!
As a quick encouragement to anyone who may need it, you should not feel any sort of obligation to accept a request from any particular person that you have reservations about for whatever reason. It is always better to be overly stingy with those who you allow into your account since once sensitive information is shared with someone via the internet, you can never be sure that it is gone.
5. Know That Once Something is Shared, It Will Always Be Online
You’ve heard it but it is as true as ever - once something is on the internet, you should assume that it is always on the internet. That is true across any and all social media platforms you may use, as well as via your messages or communications with other individuals. You may feel as though you can delete something you have shared but you have no way of knowing whether that post or location tag has been completely wiped before someone could see and save it.
With that in mind, remember to put a bit of extra thought into what you are sharing each and every time before you post!
6. Read and Understand Terms of Service/Privacy
At some point, you have likely been told to read all contracts or terms of service agreements in their entirety before you consent to anything, but realistically, most people don’t do this with any regularity. However, when it comes to your privacy and safety on social media, that might be a useful habit to pick up.
It is always good to know what information you are agreeing to share and whether that could potentially be shared with third parties with or without your consent. Additionally, it is best to know what steps you can take through these terms to have a report sent to you about what information is being held on you & then how you could go about deleting that information as necessary.
7. Install Security Software as Needed
Another way to assist you in the process of keeping your information as secure as possible is to utilize security software on your devices, particularly on your computer. Security software options are available for your web browser and computer operating systems and are a great line of defense against viruses, malware, and other threats.
There are a few different kinds of these tools available including anti-malware, anti-virus, firewall, and anti-theft software. If you are using any of this software, make sure to always keep it up to date so that it can continue to protect you.
8. Be Mindful of Activity Status
This aspect of social media usage is discussed and warned of less often than many of these other concepts. Activity status varies slightly between forms of social media, so the first step would be to double-check whether or not the platform in question displays your activity status, and in what manner it may do that.
In terms of maintaining your privacy, it is best to prevent the platforms from displaying whether you are online or offline, or to display the exact time that you were last available that some do
Social media is a great tool to connect with friends and family, share important information with clients or stakeholders, and much more but it is important to also recognize the costs of this convenience. Listening to and following these eight tips and advice will help to make your social media usage more private and secure, but that does not mean you are entirely protected from all related risks.
Take all the precautions that you can, use your best judgment, and continue to enjoy social media for all of its strengths while still making sure your information is being protected.