Social Media Privacy: How to Stay Safe on Social Media

Most social media users are facing serious privacy concerns – are you one of them?
Social media privacy

According to Pew Research Center, seven-in-ten Americans use social media, and around 80% of Facebook and Snapchat users are active on these services every day or weekly. It’s clear that social media will continue to be adopted by more people and used more often by existing users. But, beyond the joy of connecting with friends and family, how many users fully understand the unique privacy threats that these services subject them to?

Privacy by Default? Not a Chance.

It’s easy to sign-up for a new social media account, but protecting your privacy takes work. The default settings on sites like Facebook aren’t exactly in your best interest – they’re in the company’s. The more information a company can get on you, the better their ad targeting is. This means they make more money. 

Hence,  your privacy isn’t their priority – so if you aren’t watching your back, no one else is either. To make matters worse, cybersharks have smelled the blood in the water. While advertisers want your data for marketing purposes,  criminals see the potential for fraud and social engineering. They know how easy it is to mine social media accounts for personal information, and they know that most people don’t change their default privacy settings.

The result? All of those profile details, location updates, contact information, interests, and general oversharing can be used against you. Whether there’s a data breach or not, cybercriminals can use this information to launch sophisticated scams, attempt to steal your identity, and even pose as friends and family to get sensitive information.

The Biggest Social Media Privacy Issues

The hard truth about social media is that most users are at-risk and don’t even realize it. Here are some of the biggest social media security concerns that we face every day:

Identity Theft: Identity theft is one of the most damaging forms of fraud, and you often don’t know it’s happening until it’s far too late. Social media makes it easy for cybercriminals to shop for their next target – especially if you have a public profile and tend to overshare. Don’t be among them, and make sure you learn the warning signs.

Data Breaches: Even if you take social media privacy seriously, there’s still a possibility that a data breach could leak your information. In fact, 65% of data breaches have historically resulted in identity theft. When it comes to social media privacy, keeping as much sensitive information out of the company’s hands is a good move. Otherwise, your sensitive information could be leaked to the world. In fact, it may have already been leaked – in early 2021, 500+ million Facebook users were victims of a leak.

Doxing, Stalking, and Swatting: Social media may make it easy for friends and family to find one another, but it also makes it easy for people with bad intentions to access your profile – and do what they want with the information. The rise of doxing, stalking, and swatting sends a somber message about the state of social media privacy. Do the benefits of a fully public social media page outweigh the risks for you? If not, it’s time to go private.

Data Mining: When you interact with content on social media, a lot of data is generated about who you are, where you are, what you do, what you like, and even what you might like. This data is invaluable to social media companies because they can sell it to advertisers for targeted advertising – or just sell it as-is to third parties, like data brokers and people-search sites, without your consent. These companies never miss a chance to update their databases and add more personal details to user profiles, which can be sold to anyone for a small fee.

Remove your sensitive info from the web

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Phishing Attempts
: Have you ever received an email purporting to be a wealthy individual who needs you to hold onto some money for them? These are phishing attempts. Some may seem obvious to you, but when they’re sent out en masse, the phishers get plenty of bites. Using personal information from your social media accounts, phishing attempts can become much harder to spot – especially if the attacker is posing as an old friend or a “new” employee at work.

Malware Attacks: Malware makes it much easier for cybercriminals to get access to your information and commit more severe crimes, like draining your financial accounts. The only challenge is getting you to download the malicious software without knowing it. This job is made easier if the criminal can tailor a message to you over social media, or even pose as someone you know. Once your device is infected, the criminal can lock you out of your account and spread malware to your friends in your name.

Are You in These At-Risk Groups?

Social media privacy affects everyone every day, but some people are more at risk than others. To understand your risk factor, determine which group you fall in below:

Severe-Risk Group

As you can imagine, anyone in the public spotlight can become a victim of stalking and is  vulnerable to cybercriminal activity. But what most people don’t know is that you don’t need to be a celebrity to fit in this group – plenty of people in specialist careers are targeted because of their profession, their income, and  the benefits that their identity can bring.

  • Public Figures: If you’re well-known in your country, profession, or community, you fall into the public figure category. With all of these added eyes on you, more people are going to be looking at your social media – including criminals.

  • Influencers: Due to their popularity, income, and wide range of followers, social media influencers are high-priority targets for cybercriminals or stalkers. If you have a significant following, take extra care to lock down your account security and social media privacy settings.

Related: 5 Ways Social Media Influencers Can Protect Their Online Privacy

Specialists: As we mentioned, people in specialist careers are also high-priority targets. For instance, social media and healthcare professionals are a great mix for cybercriminals. The same can be said about social media and law enforcement profiles. If you’re in law, academia, or other influential fields, be on the lookout.

See also:
Workplace Violence: Top Professions That Make You Most Vulnerable to Retaliation

High-Risk Group

Unfortunately, most people fit into this category. As we discussed, social media companies don’t prioritize you over your data, so the default privacy settings on your accounts leave you vulnerable. Here are some of the biggest members of the high-risk group:

  • Teens: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and plenty more are widely popular among teenagers. While it’s great that these services give teens a place to discover themselves, social media safety for teens is rarely on the top of their minds. They tend to overshare, add strangers, and have bigger followings than adults. This makes them a larger target.

  • Elderly: The elderly have always been a popular target for cybercriminals. Due to their lowered ability to identity internet scams and to respond to them effectively, this group is highly at risk on social media.

  • General Public: No matter what your age is, if you use social media every day, you’re considered an active user. This makes up the majority of the general public. Javelin found that having an active social media presence made it 30% more likely to be a victim of fraud.

See also: Sharenting: How to Stop Damaging Your Child’s Privacy Online

  • Idle Account Holders: If you’ve stopped using social media but have yet to delete your account, cybercriminals know that they can take over your profile without you noticing. Whenever you finish using a service, be sure to remove it along with as much data as possible.

Moderate-Risk Group

As more social media companies open up shop and their services become more widely used, users have been migrating into the higher-risk groups. Users who are less active than the majority tend to be a bit safer, though they still face significant privacy concerns.

  • Less Active Users: You might think that the general public would fit in the “moderate risk” group, but as we saw in the Pew Research data earlier, most of the public is now considered active users of social media. For that small sliver of less active users, their risk is moderate. However, without overhauling their social media privacy settings, they’re still at risk, and if their account becomes idle, they could become bigger targets.

Low-Risk Group

All of the risk factors listed above can be greatly reduced if you begin implementing social media best practices in your life.

  • Privacy-Minded Individuals: Individuals who have taken a lot of precautions concerning social media privacy settings, account credential strength, what they share, who they “friend,” how they browse, and more are at the lowest risk. They not only ward off cybercriminal activity but reduce the amount of data that social media companies can collect.

10 Social Media Security Tips

Now that we know about the risks we all face, how can you best protect yourself when using social media – without giving up your favorite sites? Here’s are the best social media privacy tips we’ve found:

  1. Remove Your Information from People-search Sites

    Deleting sensitive information from social media is easy – it just takes a few clicks. But your private information can also be found on hundreds of people-search sites. These sites are popular among bad actors, who can use this data to steal your identity or commit fraud. You can opt-out of these sites manually (we have  free instructions for this), or you can use OneRep to automatically remove your profiles from 196 sites that expose your personal information.

  2. Overhaul Your Social Media Privacy Settings

    Whenever you can turn a setting from “public” to “private,” you should. For Facebook, consider making your posts only visible to friends. On Instagram, your profile can be set to private so only followers see your personal images. Twitter also has private account and protected tweets options.

  3. Don’t Overshare

    You can still share your thoughts online, but know where sharing ends and “oversharing” begins. Does the world really need to know where you’re going to be tomorrow? Do those photos accidentally reveal your address or location? Think twice before posting anything unnecessarily informative – that way you can enjoy social media stress-free.

  4. Use Two-Factor Authentication

    Passwords aren’t enough anymore – not even strong ones. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on all of your social media accounts. This will ensure that, even if a cybercriminal somehow gets access to your password, they can’t get into your account without your approval.

  5. Don’t Use Sign-In with Google, Microsoft, Facebook, or Twitter

    It might be convenient to use one flagship account to auto-login to all other sites, but it’s very dangerous. If your Google account is the master key to your entire online life, then your data, finances, and reputation are at risk. Create native credentials within every site, and use a strong randomized password with 2FA.

  6. Create Secure Passwords

    Strong passwords can’t protect your account on their own, but they’re still very important. Make sure your social media security is top-notch by locking your account behind a randomized alpha-numeric password.

  7. Be Skeptical of Some Friend Requests

    Meeting new people online is always exciting, but consider new friend requests carefully before accepting. If you don’t recognize the person, if they have two accounts, or if their account seems suspiciously “new,” play it safe and press reject. All of your privacy settings don’t matter if you unwittingly give a cybercriminal approval to peek into your account.

  8. Turn Off Discoverability

    Most major social media sites let you decide whether or not strangers can look you up. For instance, on Twitter you can turn off “discoverability” to make sure people can’t find you via email or phone number. Facebook allows you to control who can find, friend and follow you, as well as unlink your profile from Google and other search engines. Instagram has similar settings that hide your profile and photos in search.

  9. Turn Off Targeted Ads

    Turning off targeted ads doesn’t necessarily stop your data from being collected, but it does stop companies from profiting off of selling some of it. We recommend turning this feature off on all of your accounts.

  10. Remember that Your Privacy is Your Own Priority

    Before you do ot post anything, remind yourself that your privacy is not the priority for social media giants. You’re constantly producing a trail of data that can be leveraged by the company for profit. Watch your own back.

Wrapping it Up…

Social media and privacy online don’t have to be complicated. By minding your privacy, changing your settings and posting information conservatively, you can keep yourself protected from exploitative marketers, cybercriminals and stalkers.

Your privacy matters. Let us help.

OneRep offers its members continuous monitoring and automated removal of their private information from the web.

Iryna Slabodchykava

Content Strategy Manager at OneRep | LinkedIn

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