SM Can Identify You

Annalee Gorman, Mirada Staff

Google: the most widely used platform with the most information. It has the capability to store every piece of information and create advertisements about its users. It has enough information for three million word documents or 5.5 GB worth of information. But why is this information necessary?

“Data brokers,” or companies whose existence depend on buying and selling personal information, collect it so quickly, they erase the trail without knowledge of it ever being there. These companies gather data from searches, apps, or other available online records. Really, it’s used to get to know the consumer better to make a profit in a legal way.

Omnipresent technology: 95 percent of teens go online daily, 71 percent use more than one social media site and out of those teens, and 51 percent have FaceBook according to Pew Research Center.

The past year, Facebook became infamous for breaching privacy without its users knowledge. Facebook spied on its users and those who didn’t own the app, without safeguarding any of that data and using it for business deals.

Similar to Facebook, other social media apps use “growth hacking” to personalize the user experience. Meaning, companies monetize information to gain a better understanding of the user so an advertiser can target them.

Recently, Twitter updated its privacy settings integrating “advert preferences” which shows interests, sites the user viewed and gives suggestions for topics based on that activity.

Other successful apps like Snapchat and Instagram practice similar strategies. Obsessed with the user persona, according to Molly Hugh, editor of the Ringer, social networks collect likes, conversations and political preference. By licensing information, companies make a profit from user interaction, and cause pesky ads to appear.

Most teens don’t realize how powerful the apps they use are. Even when something is deleted, it’s still recoverable, and nearly impossible to fully erase. Over 60 percent of teens have deleted a post, 31 percent deleted an account, 45 percent deleted a tag in a photo and 53 percent have deleted comments.

More than ever, teens are being more open on what they share to social media. 92 percent of teens post their real name to their profile, 74 percent post their school and location, and 82 percent post their birthdate. Additionally, some use auto-location settings to automatically post where they’re at constantly.

Unknowingly, teens are allowing profiles about them to be made to specifically target them. With more posts and less privacy than ever, these companies know the user better than any friend could. The data trackers make it difficult for uses to control their data and have a right to privacy.

Facebook, Google, and Twitter recently have been under scrutiny for controlling others’ privacy. Magnified by algorithms, it makes it difficult to avoid influencing users because of the vast amount of information these companies possess. These messages are capable of blocking neutral facts and providing extreme ones because fake news makes more money than real facts. 

As mentioned before, companies know everything about the user including political preference. During the election time, some fake news writers were making $10,000 a month from companies such as AdSense. Companies such as Facebook gather user information to direct traffic to these fake news sites and make a profit from them. 

A Pew report showed that nine percent of teens cared about what information the government, or other third party sites had on them compared to over half of parents. To them, it’s the trade off of data to a better social media experience that matters most.

Caution and awareness about the power of social media can help to relinquish the control these companies have. Teens can have the balance of a enjoyable social media experience while being educated on how to keep their data safe.

It’s not just social media that’s keeping tabs. Most websites include embedded code about the user and who they are. Everytime a user visits the website, it is recorded in the history and is a reason the jacket you viewed seems to follow you around. Those histories are used to create a profile about the user.

One study in 2016 showed that over 40 percent of emails were being tracked. Marketers and advertisers can see when, where, and on what device the email was opened with. These techniques have been adopted by social media companies and are continuing to grow.

Nowadays, pervasive tracking is virtually invisible. Some useful tips to safeguard information include: being mindful about posting, turning off cookies, and turning on privacy settings.