Social media isn’t free.
Since most social media sites don’t charge a fee for users, many jump to the conclusion they are the only ones benefiting from using the platform. The other week, someone told me how fortunate they are that Twitter is free—unfortunately, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Most people don’t realize the information these social media sites are dredging off its users is far more valuable than money. These sites collect every bit of personal information you offer them, which is more than you may think.
This information can be used for many different purposes. Some sites claim the personal information they collect isn’t used or sold to third parties, but this is rarely the case. One of the biggest ways social media sites use your personal information is for advertising. Targeting advertising is extremely valuable to corporations because it allows them to push their product to people who fill their consumer demographics.
For example, a sporting goods company doesn’t want to pay to advertise to people who aren’t interested in sports. With targeted advertising, they can specify who they advertise to based on specific information.
You may think this is a fair trade off: you get to use Twitter without paying while companies get targeted advertising. To an extent, this payoff makes sense for consumers. However, companies are pushing the boundaries every year on the information they collect and what they do with it.
Social media sites can construct who you are as a person based on the information they collect. Do you feel safe with these companies knowing so much about you? This information may be safe in the hands of social media platforms for now, but what if it falls into the hands of criminals?
If you want to know just how much information social media sites collect on you, go into your account settings on Twitter. Navigate to the “personalization and data” section and review your “Twitter data.” Under this menu, you can download hundreds of folders which detail the type of information Twitter has about you and which advertisers are targeting your account.
If the information social media sites gather on you gets into the hands of criminals, you could very well have your identity stolen—and that’s just one way they could take advantage of you. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal last year proved even the biggest social media network in the world is susceptible to data breaches. While it was said Cambridge Analytica did not get access to users’ passwords, the damage was still done.
Cambridge Analytica is a political data company which was hired by President Donald Trump for his election campaign in 2016. It was found this company illegally accessed information on over 50 million Facebook users. With this information, the Cambridge Analytica built tools which identified personalities of American voters and influenced their decisions.
Did you catch that? This is the price of social media.