Last month, StartUpSmart asked me to comment on how the use of personal data by social media platforms was changing. Previously I’d written and talked about navigating the risks of using social media in your business – but I’d not considered the other angle: how the social media platforms are putting us at risk.
As I researched the topic, I realized most of us have no idea how much of our personal data the social media platforms now gather, use, store and sell. And how quickly this landscape is changing – almost like a snowball rolling down the hill, gathering pace and collecting ever increasing amounts of your personal data.
For example, did you realize?
Facebook and LinkedIn can use your name and picture to endorse products
Facebook and LinkedIn have been running these types of ads since 2011. They’re called “social ads” and can use your profile picture and name in connection with a product, service or company that you like or connect with.
The ad formats caused so much controversy when they were first launched that both Facebook and LinkedIn were forced to tweak the format – your name and picture are only shown AFTER your contact clicks the ad. Big deal.
But these ad types were not removed and instead users of those social media platforms were given the option to “opt out” of the program in their account settings.
LinkedIn has been “harvesting” the email addresses of your contacts
This breach of your privacy is particularly egregious and is the subject of a US class action law suit. LinkedIn has been accessing (“hacking” would probably be a better description) your email account and downloading all your contacts’ email addresses and then sending them invitations to join LinkedIn.
What is even worse is that these emails inviting your contacts to join LinkedIn are sent under your email address and your profile – so your contacts think it is you that is asking them to join LinkedIn – and are sent multiple times, if the contact fails to signup. This can be particularly embarrassing if you have just been to a work meeting where you met new colleagues or contacts.
The case is still ongoing in California but has been whittled down to this key issue:
“Second and third endorsement emails could injure users’ reputations by allowing contacts to think that the users are the types of people who spam their contacts or are unable to take the hint that their contacts do not want to join their LinkedIn network … which could be professional or personally harmful.”
Pretty sneaky and it’s all happening without your explicit consent.
Social media and large tech are selling your personal data
Social media platforms and large tech companies are accessing your personal data and selling it to advertisers and product marketers. This includes everything from your family, travel, employment, location, address, hair colour, etc.
Facebook is mining vast resources of our very personal information – and takes pride in knowing what you do, where you have been, your habits, your purchases, your comments, your interests. All great information to sell to marketers.
But they’re not the only ones. Everything you do, purchase or view on iTunes or through an Apple device is tracked and used to target ads. Every time you log into a Google service, your searches, email contents, website browsing, etc. is collected and tagged to your unique Google Ad ID.
What can you do about it?
Sadly and oddly, from a legal perspective, there is not much you can do at the moment. Hopefully the law will catch up at some point and prevent the “big guys” from accessing your data in the first place or at least from using it for their commercial purposes.
In the meantime, one thing you can do is check the profile settings for each of the social media platforms and operating systems you use: Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Android, iOS, Google account, etc. You can minimize your exposure by blocking or turning off tracking, cookies and advertising or notification opt-ins.
For more from Vanessa Emilio on this topic, check out: How social media and tech companies sniff out your data and Is LinkedIn using your personal image and email contacts?