Social Media Privacy

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Are Google and Facebook invading your social media privacy? The question should probably be prefaced with ‘To what extent’.

Everyone from The Guardian to Al Jazeera News has published information about the extent to which our personal lives are intruded upon by two of the Internet’s most powerful companies, and the sad truth is that there is little we can do to fight it. 1984 has arrived, folks, except it did so a few decades later than Orwell predicted.

Recently, Dylan Curran published a viral article in which he aimed to show readers “just how much of your information the likes of Facebook and Google store about you without you even realising it.” Some of the most important points he noted are:

– Google stores your location every time you turn on your phone. You can actually use Google Maps to see the timeline of every single place you’ve been to since you started using Google.

– Google stores your search history. That is, even if you delete your search history on one device, it is stored on other devices from which you have not deleted it.

– Ever wondered why you seem to be receiving targeted advertising? This is because Google has created a profile based on your product searches, interests, age, sex, etc. Of course, the information can be immensely private. For instance, if you have been watching videos on depression or you want to have a child, any material you have viewed or searched is stored.

– Facebook also creates a profile based on the things you have liked and the comments you make. It stores information from every app you have connected to Facebook, so it knows your interests, whether or not you are single (based on your activity on a linked dating app) and the like.

– Both Google and Facebook offer the option to download all the data that is stored about you. If you do so, you will be surprised by how many documents they have. In Curran’s case, his Facebook download contained 600mb worth of files.

– Google stores every article you’ve read, every YouTube video you’ve watched, every image you’ve saved and the like.

– Users should consider switching to an anonymous web browser.

– They can also select apps that block scripts (which alert advertisers to the user). It isn’t necessary to list everything noted by Curran in his article, which is definitely worth a read if you require more detail.

It is very clear by now that Big Brother is everywhere and that makes a good argument for editing your behaviour (i.e. thinking of the impact your searches could have in the future). For those working in research or journalism, this is close to impossible.

As part of our jobs, we are forced to search for everything from Mel Gibson’s age to the cost of Brazilian butt lifts… evidently not necessarily because these are pertinent to our own lives, but rather, because they are necessary for the articles we write.

There is good news for those who wish to surf the Internet with greater privacy; the only problem is, you have to fight a myriad of fires and be consistent with all your devices. Strategies to regain a little bit of privacy include:

– To stop Google tracking your searches: Head to the activity controls page and turn the tracking off.

– To stop Google tracking your location: Open your settings, open the app called Google Settings, tap location, then Google location history, and turn the location history off.

You can stop Facebook from tracking your location in much the same way: look for settings on your phone or tablet, tap on privacy, then location services, then Facebook, then ‘never’ when asked if you authorise location tracking.

– To stop targeted ads: Visit Google’s ad settings page and turn personalisation off.

– To eliminate your history: Erase your history after searching and check all devices to ensure they are all clear.

It can seem like you have to second-guess powerful companies like Facebook and Google continually to maintain a semblance of privacy. If you are very concerned about this, see a specialist in the computer field to ensure you get every step right.

In the end, Facebook is far less important than Google, which most of us rely on various times a day simply to get from A to B.

Words Marisa Cutillas

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