Staying secure on Social Media

Senior Airman Devin Rumbaugh, 86th Airlift Wing public affairs photojournalist, checks his social media feed Feb. 7 on Ramstein Air Base. Social media is a popular tool for military members to connect and share experiences.

It is estimated that 3.8 billion people use social media to some degree in their daily lives. Many would agree that it is a great way to express yourself. Social media platforms offer interactive tools to share personal insights, engage with friends and family, and receive breaking news updates from around the globe in seconds.

For some, during the COVID-19 pandemic, social media has served as a great distraction, source of information and entertainment, or just a way to connect with others. This capability can be both a blessing and a curse, as there are many security and privacy concerns which may be overlooked by the public. It is easy to keep up with friends from around the globe. It is also just as easy for third parties to collect your sensitive personal data.

Have you ever been thinking about a certain product, maybe did a quick web search and then almost immediately saw an advertisement for it? This online phenomenon is known as Targeted Advertising, which is a form of online advertising that focuses on the specific traits, interests, and preferences of a consumer. Advertisers discover this information by tracking your activity on the Internet. What is often overlooked is that these social media platforms are operated by businesses with the primary goal of making a profit. The easiest way to turn a profit on a platform with billions of users is by placing targeted ads. These types of ads keep track of what websites you visit and how you behave on the internet by creating a profile. You/we are the product.

This is just one example of ways in which many websites and platforms are collecting personal information from their users. Some people might say, “Wait, isn’t this an invasion of my privacy?” All users, however, have given permission for these practices of information collection. Many websites require users to agree to the Privacy Policy or End User License Agreement when first creating an account.

Even with the standard social media privacy protection practices (i.e. setting all posts to friends only, not disclosing personal information, etc.) these platforms gather personal information behind the scenes. This information can never be guaranteed safe from outside interlopers. For example, in 2018, Facebook’s collection of private information from its users was hacked by outside attackers. At the time, these attackers were able to access the personal information from 50 million Facebook users. These attackers could not only access Facebook accounts, but could also get into any other application that uses Facebook account credentials to access, such as Spotify and Instagram. 

No matter which standard internet safety information practices you may employ, your information is still available. No information is guaranteed safe from those who want it. It is highly recommended to “Stop and Think” about whose hands your information may end up in.

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