In many respects, social media has made it easier for us to communicate with each other: We are able to keep in touch with friends from around the world, we can easily update family members about what’s going on in our lives, and we may even meet new friends or love interests more easily online. However, this new convenient way of interaction comes with a big caveat: gradually dwindling privacy.
Whenever you’re using a social media platform like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – particularly if you use a smartphone – you’re leaving an online trail for an unknown audience. Large swaths of Facebook users, for example, don’t check their privacy settings. In 2011, 28 percent of these users shared all or almost all of their posts with more than just their Facebook friends. Many find the privacy settings of social networking sites like Facebook simply too confusing, especially since they change so frequently.
Yet, even if you diligently wade through the privacy settings of your various social media profiles, you can still never be 100 percent sure about who gets a glimpse of your information. Throughout the past year, the extent to which the government is snooping on our online communication has been revealed. Social media has also become a rich source for academic research, with Facebook studying how parents and their children interact or Microsoft identifying women at risk of post-partum depression.
Social media is a public space where your information is essentially up for grabs. While having personal data like interests or location taken from your Facebook or Google+ profiles might already seem grossly invasive, the newest generation of social networks asks you to give up even more sensitive information. Los Angeles-based startup AroundWire is described by its CEO/founder Amira Fickewirth as a social exchange – a social network serving as a marketplace and payment system. AroundWire requires users to have their identities and reputations verified, which involves their driver’s license number, public records, and a series of questions about their personal history.
Even though this verification process is designed to protect users from fraud when conducting online business, giving up such sensitive information on the Internet also dramatically increases their risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime. More than 1 million people are being targeted by cybercriminals each day, and 39 percent of social media users have been hacked or deceived. It’s this simple: The more personal information about you that is available online, the more likely you are to become a victim of online crimes like identity theft, phishing schemes, financial fraud, or unlawful data mining.
Social media is difficult to circumvent these days, as it plays an increasing role in our private and professional lives. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to keep up with the ever-changing parameters of this new medium and to learn how to navigate it as safely as possible. In an age where teenagers are sharing more of themselves than ever before, we should all remember that there’s more to life than being online.