Social Media Privacy Policies

Across the country, high school and colleges are celebrating homecomings and have all the fun to boot: football games, dances, dinners and more. Homecoming may be one more reason for young people to celebrate, but it’s also a time to bring past graduates and their families back to the campus. That’s exactly the hype with reunions, too. In the past, people waited for their 10-year reunions to see who was married, who had kids, who went bald and so forth.

But not anymore. Social media is killing off reunions – slowly but surely.

Social Media is Killing Off Your Private Life

Thanks to social networks like Facebook, there’s not much privacy that people have anymore. No longer do you have to get dressed up and attend an uneventful reunion just to see what your classmates are up to. You already know. Facebook has solved this problem for you. You see enough photos of people’s kids, pets, significant others, vacations and weddings; a reunion would be, well, repetitive.

Social media does more than just teach you about your past classmates; it also teaches you about people in the world. People use social media to come together over like-minded issues. They support each other through various life experiences such as divorce and sickness. They spread awareness about sensitive topics and fund nonprofit organizations. Social media prevents people from feeling alone and isolated. It builds communities. But it also destroys privacy.

Let’s learn a little more about how information is shared, collected and used on social media.

How Information is Gathered

There are two kinds of information that can be gathered about a user from a social network.

  • Information shared by the user. Many things a person shares is public, and advertisers can use it to learn more about them. The most common things shared by people are photos, status updates, interests, geographical location, biographical information, age and gender.

  • Information gathered through electronic tracking. Information can also be gathered from a user’s behavior online using cookies. Cookies can track the websites the person has visited, how the person moves from one site to another and any information that is stored. A profile can then be built around the individual.

Is Everything Public on Social Media?

Not everything you share on social media is public, but you must be diligent about checking privacy policies. In many cases, information is made visible by the default settings, so you will have to go into the settings menu and change them if you want your posts to be private. Many people don’t know to do this, however, and so they post information that is public. In other cases, people simply may not care that their vacation photos are being seen by the world.

Here are few more things to keep in mind. Social networks can change their privacy policies at any time without your permission. Also, some information must be kept public and does not give you the choice to restrict access to it. Some third-party applications may also be given access to view information that has been posted privately.

Who Can Access this Information?

Most of us use social media with the understanding that not everything is private. If it were, the very essence of social media would be compromised. But aside from the people that you want seeing your cute holiday photos, who else can access this information? Let’s take a look.

  • Advertisers that want to collect information to better target their audiences using ads.

  • Third-party software developers who want to learn how to better personalize applications.

  • Government and law enforcement for emergency requests; to prohibit employees from using fake information; and for training materials to teach employees how to utilize information.

  • Creditors that want to supplement the information they get off the typical credit report.  

  • Identity thieves and online criminals who want to obtain personal information so it can be used to infect computers, harass the individual or engage in identify theft.  

Are there any Laws in Place to Protect People?

Currently, there are a few laws that protect information given to social networks. In the US, most of these laws protect certain types of information such as medical or financial records. The laws that do protect the privacy of information do not extend to casual searches on the Web or to information revealed by the user.

If you want to learn more about the privacy laws that are in place, check out the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). It’s also important to know how to read a privacy policy on the respective social network that you’re on. These policies tell you everything you need to know about the data being collected and how it’s being used.

Tips for Reading a Privacy Policy

Privacy policies are often long and difficult to understand, but here a few tips to help you out.

  • Start at the end. This is where the most important information is.

  • Length of storage. How long is the information stored for? Some information is made anonymous, some is deleted and some is maintained.

  • Location and language. Is the privacy policy clear and visible, or do you have to look hard to find it? Is the language concise and easy to understand, or is it largely vague?

  • Canceling the account. What happens if you cancel the account? Is your information deleted or is it maintained by the social network?  

  • Notification about updates. When the network makes changes to its privacy policy, will it update you? If so, how can you find out about the updates?

It’s a good idea to keep on top of the latest privacy policies so that you know how your information is being used across the various social media networks. For more information about the latest privacy practices, visit