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  • Ethan Wai Chi Leung

The Unknown Risk of Social Media Platforms

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

As social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and WeChat become more popular, the risk of infringing upon our privacy through online data becomes more apparent. According to Data Reportal, there are around 3.8 billion social media users around the world. As social media gains popularity each day, more problems emerge through these platforms. From accounts being targeted by hackers, to user concerns over what happens with our data, it seems as if privacy has really become a thing of the past.

Many of these popular social media platforms function through storing and publishing user data. These functions include messaging and creating posts. While using the media, user info is collected by the platform. For example, when setting up an account, one is usually required to provide information like a phone number, name, birth date, and Gmail. Another example of how social media implicates user data is how social media platforms are able to learn about the locations the user has visited. Snapchat has around 173 million daily users, and a function on its platform called Snapmap raises security concerns as it tracks the location of the user every time the user uses the app. It is used to see a friend's location and is one of Snapchat's popular functions.

Michael Kasdan, an attorney who is a partner at Wiggin and Dana specializing in privacy, says that "teenage users, a lot of them don't necessarily think about the privacy implications, they're more thinking about connecting with their friends, and whatever ...everyone else is doing." Even though users can choose who sees their location, many, especially teenagers, tend to allow everyone to see their location. However, this raises security concerns as many teenagers don't understand that sharing their location could mean being constantly monitored. Sharing your location to your closest friends may be fine, but in Snapchat, users often share their location with all of their friends. Snapchat friends whom someone barely knows could know their location at almost all times. If users knew this, most likely, they would change how they use the function. Further, Snapchat could potentially find out where users live, work, or go to school. With this information, the company itself has the power to sell user data to third-parties resources or use the data for its own unregulated ends. Social media platforms such as Snapchat have much more information about users than they may fathom.

With access to user information, platforms are able to have not only an understanding of your basic personal information but a sense of your friends and political tendencies. For example, according to a New York Times study, Facebook is able to label users as conservative or liberal by analyzing the web pages you follow or like. When Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress on the issue of how Facebook handles user data in 2018, a problem presented was that advertisements could access user data and target a specific group of people. This is hugely controversial, as politicians could target a particular audience with their advertisements. During the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump's campaign paid for its ads to be shown to those who have been labeled as moderate by Facebook. This further demonstrates the power of social media over your data and is why as social media grows, we should be more concerned over our data privacy.

Social media overall creates the potential for security breaches. Private data stored in these social media accounts, even though they may seem safe, is actually extremely accessible to hackers and the staff of the platform you are using. Furthermore, we should be wary of social media platforms, as through interacting with social media, platforms are able to further learn about the user's private information, which can cause discomfort to many.



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