The push and pull of data mining is ever-expanding. Here’s how to protect yourself.
Users complain most about two matters in terms of protecting social media data.
- Abuse of data collection
- How Big Tech deploys it
Big Tech caught itself yet again in another of its endless revelations of privacy breaches. It concerns personal phone numbers this time, but does it really matter anymore? The intimate details that social media companies buy and sell — those we know about anyway — should already creep us out, yet as night follows day, another incident will surely follow.
Online privacy hangs by a thread these days, and Canadians aren’t all that happy about it. Even if you know what you’re doing and you think you don’t care, you have to pay to play. And you may be paying a lot more than you think.
A full 92% of us believe in the right to not be found. However, it’s not as though we don’t take advantage of access to such information on other people. Two out of three Canadians admit to researching others online before meeting them.
The desire for personal privacy versus the impulse to indulge in the private information of others creates a very taught tug-of-war, especially as Big Tech intrudes into our lives ever so aggressively. As human beings and members of the workforce, we also need to share information online so that people who need to reach us will find us.
So, how do we balance privacy and disclosure?
Know How Big Social Collects Data
Users share a common misconception in that they control how and when platforms collect their data. The problem is that accumulating such information has become more often than not an automatic process.
People may opt out of a platform, but nothing stops companies from aggregating personal details in the first place. Even minor apps, those that measure heart rates or menstrual cycles, send data to Facebook for analysis.
Sites can also still gather personal information regardless of whether users create profiles. Facebook is well-known for shadow accounts, hidden profiles developed by the social giant to recommend friends, suggest new connections and to mine and dissect data.
When users upload their contacts to Facebook, and one of those contacts doesn’t have an account, chances are that person’s information — such as their phone number, name and email — has been captured and stored in that account. In short, more data is collected than we currently fathom.
Start at the Source
Transparency between brands and users sheds sunlight into the dark shadows of data collection. Concerns over privacy can and should remain, although tech companies should take it upon themselves to dispel the shadiness.
Take AdBlock. Most of us don’t like unsolicited ads, but we will often agree to their terms once the situation is explained. A simple, “We need ads to keep our site running,” can convince people to turn the blocker off. Even when it doesn’t, it demonstrates that a company trusts its customers.
There are reasons platforms collect such intelligence. Among them is to prevent spamming users with unwanted content. They shouldn’t advertise milk to lactose intolerants. At the same time, we wouldn’t mind seeing suggestions for lawn care specialists in our neighborhoods when searching for landscaping trends.
The bottom line is that there is a line, and we need to insist that brands know where to draw it.
Consider the Solutions
ConsumerAffairs recommends that buyers aggressively seek the information that companies hold on them, opt out of giving up personal details, or if that fails, simply shop elsewhere.
Social enterprises don’t aspire to be like Target, which learned that a teen became pregnant before her own father knew, but perhaps they want to improve the content that users experience. There are non-invasive opportunities for them to do so, such as social media polls and email questionnaires.
If those results fall flat, transparency becomes paramount. Ninety percent of consumers accept the legal terms and conditions without reading, but platforms can avoid scandals by offering a bulleted list of main legal points up front.
Platforms should know that agreeing to terms and conditions to more quickly access a website doesn’t mean that users are begging for exploitation. Most of us would still sign up for the site after spending a day reading through the legalize, but that doesn’t mean we feel good about it, or that it doesn’t cause resentment toward the business demanding it.
Finally, there are alternatives to mainstream social sites. Involving ourselves with platforms that emphasize security is one step toward taking back control. As consumers are increasingly concerned with privacy, exploring options represents a significant opportunity to cover their assets.
The potential for social media to inform and improve our lives remains limitless. Only if, however, we regain even the slightest authority over the dissemination of our personal habits.