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What are the most common social media privacy issues?

Social networks are great for keeping in touch with your friends. However, we regularly publish tons of personal data that can be used against us and cause privacy nightmares.

What are the most common social media privacy issues?

1. Data mining

Data is the bread and butter of social media platforms. They do everything based on your information – tailor their services, serve ads, analyze the market, build business models, etc. Some data you’ve given to them is personal, like your name, email addresses, date of birth, or where you live. But other kinds of data, like your likes and dislikes, photos, and posts, can paint a picture of who you really are too. This type of data is a gold mine for social media platforms. So this is where data mining comes in.

Once you willingly give away data by agreeing to their Terms and Conditions, it belongs to them. They can do almost whatever they please with it. They can:

  • Use this data to create an accurate user profile and serve you targeted ads
  • Share data with their partners
  • Sell data to third parties
  • Transfer your data to different countries where privacy laws might be more lenient
  • Use your photos or other types of data in their campaigns
  • Influence your opinion based on your likes and dislikes (this happened in the Cambridge Analytica scandal)

2. Privacy setting loopholes

Data privacy is an important issue. Most social media companies amended their privacy policies in response to stricter privacy laws and regulations in Europe. They now allow you to tweak your settings and make your accounts more private. However, changing your privacy settings doesn’t always guarantee privacy. How?

Most of the time, something you shared with a closed group of friends gives them the ability to share it with others. Your friend’s friends can then see the content you posted, which might not be your intention. Your friends might not even have stringent privacy policies, meaning that others can now access information that was supposed to stay within your friends’ circle.

The same applies to closed social groups and forums. Sky News has previously found that comments and user lists in private health groups on Facebook could be easily searchable and discoverable by insurance companies and employers. So think twice before posting or commenting about controversial issues. That information could ruin your reputation or lead to identity theft.

3. Location settings

Pay attention to location settings when you use social media sites and apps. Some might be tracking your whereabouts even when you told them not to like Google was caught doing last year. Your location might not seem like a very valuable piece of data. However, when paired with your other personal information, it could help to create an even more accurate user profile.

Real-life thieves and stalkers could also use location data. Imagine if a criminal knew where you are at all times. They could easily break into your house when you weren’t there or follow you home.

4. Hacking

Social media accounts are an excellent target for hackers for many reasons. For example, they can:

  • Gather information from your social media profiles and use it to break into your accounts. Posting photos of your dog and then using his name as a password is one of many easy tricks
  • Gain a better understanding of who you are and use social engineering attacks such as phishing or pretexting
  • Spread malware and viruses through your accounts. Once they’re in, they can send messages to your friends with a link that hides malware. Such phishing techniques tend to be much more effective compared to email phishing as people trust messages that come from their friends.
  • Use your information to impersonate you or even steal your identity

5. Harassment, cyberbullying, and impersonation

Social media can also be used for cyberbullying or cyberstalking. The perpetrators don’t even need to be hackers. They can be infatuated colleagues sending threatening messages or your kid’s classmates bombarding them with inappropriate comments. It could also be your ex-partner who shared private information about you online or even hacked into your account and messaged your colleagues and friends to ruin your reputation. This can be a privacy nightmare, especially if the information was sent from your account. Explaining that it wasn’t you could be close to impossible.

6. Addiction and the psychological consequences

Social media is addictive and can impact your personal, social, and professional life if overused. Users tend to spend significant time on social networks, which sometimes affect their real lives. So make sure you have a healthy balance between your real life and your virtual lives.

7. False information

Social media is widely used to spread misinformation and propaganda. Trolls, which have a noticeable presence online, also intentionally provoke useless discussions and manipulate others’ emotions. So make sure to double-check every fact you find suspicious on social media and don’t share it without being sure it’s genuine.

infographic: list of 5 common dangers of social media

Social media safety statistics

Are social media concerns justified? Well, statistics show that yes, they are. Just remember the massive data leaks social media giants have experienced. For example, 533 million Facebook users’ phone numbers and personal data were leaked online back in 2021. A 2020 study conducted by Statista shows that 34 percent of users were concerned that their accounts could be compromised.

Moreover, a 2021 study conducted by Pew Research revealed that 41 percent of American users experienced online harassment. Seventy-five percent of those cases took place on social media sites.

​​Is it safe to use social networks in 2024?

You should use your common sense when using social media in 2024. Make sure to implement all the protection tips listed below. Also, think twice before creating a new social media account. Each platform introduces additional risk, so it is better to use only those that are essential to you. Also, make sure to follow the instructions on how to delete your data from the internet when leaving a social media outlet. Moreover, always research a social network before joining to be sure it’s safe and reliable. Make sure the apps you use are not malicious in terms of privacy.

Below you can find our texts on safety of a most popular social media channels:

How to protect your privacy on social media

infographic: tips on how to minimize the dangers of social media
  • Don’t overshare; only provide the necessary information. You don’t always need to provide your address or date of birth to create accounts.
  • Use strong passwords, don’t reuse them, and keep them safe in a password manager, like NordPass.
  • Don’t use social media on public devices, but if you do, always remember to log out when you’re done.
  • Disable geolocation data on your apps.
  • Don’t trust suspicious links, even if you get them from your friends.
  • Set up 2-factor-authorization where possible.
  • Use private mode if possible. For example, you can try browsing LinkedIn in private mode.
  • Opt out of data broker websites — you may wish to check out our guide for removing data from Spokeo, one the major data brokers.
  • Go through this checklist to see what else you could do to make your accounts more private. You can also check your cybersecurity knowledge by taking the National Privacy Test. Also, check some good points on privacy issues in our interview with Troy Hunt.