How much private information are you sharing through social media?

Posted at 5:28 AM, Nov 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-20 07:44:07-05

Facebook has more than 2 billion active monthly users. Twitter claims 330 million. Instagram? Try 500 million.

Social media has rapidly become a reality in our daily lives. A decade ago you may not have even owned a smartphone — now it seems like everyone does, and one of the most common uses is social media.

“You have to have Facebook,” said Mahmoud Abuqalbain, a student at Wayne state.

That doesn’t mean he likes it. Abuqalbain told 7 Action News that if he had it his way he’d ditch his smartphone. He has concerns over a lack of privacy.

“Really you don’t have privacy,” he said. “You just have to watch what you’re saying —what you’re doing— at all times. Social media is essential and it can be a good thing, but it can also be a real concern.”

He’s not the only student concerned — a handful of his classmates noted that they’ve tried to deleter social media, or at least limit how much they use it.

The reality is you’ve likely already ceded some of your privacy if you’re on a major social media website.

Instagram and Facebook collects the information you provide when you login: names, email addresses and phone numbers. It also collects data through cookies placed by themselves, or a third-party advertiser, according to “Identity Guard.”

It can also tell whether you’re logging in through a personal computer or mobile device — and geo-tags on photos, essentially details on where/when you’re in a  particular place, are also collected.

Facebook can even determine how you access the site, what type of operating system you use on your computer and what locations you’ve been.

In some cases this information becomes so useful to advertisers that they can target ads to you that seem like they’re “listening in.” Some users have gone as far as stating that they believe the microphone is recording conversations making it easier for direct-to-consumer ads. Facebook has denied that allegation.

“Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads,” wrote Facebook executives in a media release in 2016. “This is not true. We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information – not what you’re talking out loud about.”

It hasn’t stopped viral videos and conspiracies from spreading online.

“I talked about Wayne State a lot with my friends before I came to school here,” said Cameron Judge, a freshman who moved from Ohio earlier this year. “Suddenly a bunch of ads and stuff started popping up on SnapChat.”

The likely reasoning behind the influx of ads for Judge is that most social websites can track what you search for on your desktop, or mobile phone in other apps and web browsers.

It doesn’t make it less concerning.

“I actually deleted by social media apps a couple times,” he said. “I didn’t want it to distract me — and sometimes that stuff does scare you.”

At time point you may wonder how much data you’re willingly giving away on social media: from locations, to habits, even details on your family and friends — it may have you doing a double-take on those user agreements you click “yes” to when you update your phone, or download a new program, but it’s not that easy.

Carnegie Melon researchers wrote a report five years ago stating that the average internet user encounters a enough user agreements and privacy policies that it would take 76 work days to read them all. That’s 15 work weeks to ensure the internet companies you share information with don’t violate privacies that you assume you have.

We know you’re unlikely to spend that type of time studying your internet privacy — so we’re making it easy. Here’s a list of the major social media sites, and details on what they’re tracking and the steps you can take to, at least, limit the amount of your information is being shared: