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The Tracking Trade-Off

By Heshy Friedman

If you’ve been using social media for a while, you’ve probably forgotten about most of what you’ve posted online. Facebook has been operating since 2004, Twitter since 2006, and Instagram since 2010. In that time social media sites have accumulated a staggering number of posts, comments, and photos.

How many times have you heard about someone struggling to explain something they said online, even if it was years ago, in a different political or social climate? Remember, times and attitudes change, people grow up—but your social media record preserves it all.

Whether from high-profile politicians and businesses or individuals on their personal accounts, what’s said online can have far-reaching consequences. If you own a business, are seeking employment, or have a career, you can’t afford to be careless about your social profile; a whopping 34% of employers report having fired or reprimanded an employee for their online activity.

In recent years, the subject of free speech on the internet has become increasingly controversial. Ultimately, there’s no hard and fast rules, and little agreement on how far platforms or governments should be allowed to go in their efforts. Trying to juggle conflicting concerns has led to uneven enforcement, legal battles, and inconsistent application of bans across various platforms.

Facebook alone generates 4 petabytes (that’s four million gigabytes!) of data every day, and it’s nearly impossible for even the most powerful tech giants to sift through it all and enforce their own guidelines, much less wade into hotly contested debates regarding acceptable speech.

Compiled, Catalogued, and Aggregated

That’s without even mentioning the big business of big data.
In the years since social media’s inception, digital tools for mining and extrapolating the huge amounts of information generated by user activity have only become more sophisticated.

Experts disagree on how much more effective targeted advertising really is. Depending on which study you review, the number of consumers that are more likely to purchase from companies that personalize their advertising and content ranges from fewer than 5% more to nearly 50% more.

But in either case, even the lower figure is enough to justify the huge amount of time and money spent on online profiling, and despite some calls for an end to targeted advertising altogether, marketers show no signs of slowing their implementation of these polarizing tools.

Recently, popular messaging service WhatsApp attempted to update its privacy policy to share users’ data with Facebook without any way to opt-out, and a recent article in Atlantic magazine found that during a 36 hour period, their reporter’s movements across the web was tracked by 105 different companies!

Some of those tracking companies were the giants you’d expect, such as Facebook and Google. But the lion’s share of the data was being vacuumed up by small, obscure companies whose sole business is helping businesses generate more effective, tightly targeted advertising.

Just last week at the 2021 Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference, Apple’s Tim Cook delivered a keynote address (Youtube video, 15-minute segment starting at 3:00) that clearly conveyed his concerns about all this data harvesting.

Steps You Can Take
While Apple has made protecting your privacy a priority, it’s clearly going against the tide, and meaningful reform will take time and some very hard work. So what can you do in the meantime?

Check out the following links to see how your personal information is being utilized on some major personal or professional social media platforms, and adjust your settings to the privacy level you’re comfortable with.


Bottom line: If it’s online, it’s accessible forever. Don’t let a momentary impulse come back to haunt you. Think before you post. Before making any post, give some thought if the post would present any problem sometime in the future. It’s important to always have a clean slate.

We love to talk about the modern online environment, and how to protect yourself while getting the most out of it, safely and effectively. Contact us today.

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