by Dr. Amy Collier, Associate Provost for Digital Learning
Social media platforms collect a lot of data about us. They have a financial driver to collect, keep, and sell your data: The more data they have, the more revenue they can draw in by including your data in algorithms that drive advertising. In September 2017, author and scholar Zynep Tufekci said, “think of all the data that Facebook has on you: every status update you ever typed, every Messenger conversation, every place you logged in from, all your photographs that you uploaded there. If you start typing something and change your mind and delete it, Facebook keeps those and analyzes them, too. Increasingly, it tries to match you with your offline data. It also purchases a lot of data from data brokers. It could be everything from your financial records to a good chunk of your browsing history…In the US, such data is routinely collected, collated and sold.” This is true of Facebook and other social media companies (not to mention browsers, email providers, and vendors like Amazon).
This is why folks like Kris Shaffer promote digital minimalism, which Kris describes as exercising restraint in our digital lives and work. The restraint can include, and we suggest it should include, restraint on how much information we give to social media platforms, keeping in mind the various known and unknown ways our data are used.
Here are some actions you can take to restrict the data platform companies collect about you:
- Turn off geographic location services for your social media. Learn more about location tracking to understand its risks.
- Deep clean your Facebook account (and other social media accounts). This includes deleting old data and cleaning out your friends/connections lists. My colleague Robin DeRosa is currently using the Greasemonkey extension on her Firefox browser to delete old Facebook activity.
- Manage your data on Twitter.
- Remove any references to your email, phone number, home address, or birthdate on social media (this study showed that your social security number can be predicted based on socially-shared data).
- Opt out of Facebook’s and Twitter’s data broker relationships. This requires some time and attention, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s walkthroughs are helpful.
- Install a browser tool to block spying ads and tracker. Privacy Badger is a good option.
You can also delete older data that you have shared on social media. I did this with Twitter and never looked back (later, I deleted a bunch of old data from Facebook too). Yes, social media companies may keep archived data on you, but deleting old data can restrict what gets picked up algorithmically by platform companies. Deleting old data can also help protect you from bullies or trolls who might try to use your old data (e.g., an old picture you posted) against you.
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