Social media privacy settings may not keep your information secure

Jessica Pellegrino – General Assignment Reporter 

Clicking “make profile private” may no longer be enough to keep a person’s life safe.

When senior, Tania Galindo, received a threatening text from an ex-boyfriend stating he knew where she would be that night, she got very concerned.

“Although I have my profile set to completely private,” said Galindo, “people can still see the events I am attending. For me, this is really scary because if I had a stalker or something, he would be able to know where I am going and when I will be there.”

Recently, social media users have become comfortable with sharing everything online—from the big moments to what they ate for lunch. No detail is too small to share.

Not only this, but websites like Facebook and Twitter now allow businesses to access details about users such as location and search items. In other words, businesses can now taper their advertising to your preferences.

Facebook users are feeling this. According to the same Pew study, 81 percent feel “not very” or “not at all secure” using social media sites when they want to share private information with another trusted person or organization.

Internet users have good reason for this fear. Lisa Lancor, chairperson of Southern’s Computer Science program, lays out the process for social media users.

Lancor said, “Facebook actually tracks your online activity. The fact is, businesses like The New York Times can make money through subscription costs. Facebook makes money through advertisements. This has always been the way Facebook has worked.”

Sites like Facebook and even Google use devices called “web bugs” to track what users are doing, said Lancor.

“Web bugs” are tiny, less than a pixel sized trackers than companies send to suck up your information, using cookies, regardless of the privacy settings of a user’s profile or your internet’s cookies policy.

This is all listed in the “Privacy Act” users likely scrolled past and accepted without reading, said Lancor.

Businesses are not the only ones tapping into this practice. Lancor said, “For example, we at the Computer Science Department use this practice to promote our Computer Science Master’s program. The ad will show up on the profiles of people in the area with listed bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science.”

Lancor explains it’s more effective in reaching the right audience than, for instance, a ten thousand dollar billboard on I-95.

According to a Pew Research study, 91 percent of adults in the survey “agree” or “strongly agree” that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.

Simply google searching a certain brand can result in months of advertisements from that brand on your profile.

This practice goes deeper than just selling ads. When an internet users is on a news site like Buzzfeed, there will be web bugs from other similar pages like Cracked or The Onion, tracking the user’s activity, said Lancor.

So, how does an internet user keep themselves protected from the unwanted Big Brother’s eye?

Widgets like Ghostery allow users to see all of the “web bugs” on a certain page. Better yet, the widget allows the user to turn off specific “web bugs.” For instance, if an internet user does not want Facebook to see that they are on a certain website, the can turn off the Facebook “web bug.”

Photo Credit: Derek Torrellas

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