How much time do you spend on social media daily? Five minutes, thirty minutes? It doesn’t really matter, as even 30 seconds are enough for the apps to collect a staggering amount of data about you - from your whereabouts to your food preferences. Each time you interact with a platform like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat or any of the other socializing apps, you leave digital footprints which, added up together, make for a pretty accurate digital version of you. This information is then sold to advertisers to sustain the platforms (as most of them are free to use).
Ever wondered how much exactly do social media platforms and search engines know about you? Let’s find out!
Start with Facebook
Following the revelations surrounding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has been the platform most widely accused of collecting, storing and providing third parties with information about its users. The sad truth is that you granted permission to Mark and his team to do so. In an attempt to make things more transparent, Facebook has been adding a bunch of useful tools which let people better grasp the amount of information it has about them and how it uses it. These are just a couple of them:
Browse your Facebook footprint
You can either download a copy of the information or access information by category. Either way, you will be surprised how much Facebook knows about your calls, messages or locations. Everything is stored (and used to profile you).
When accessing your information by category, you will find a section called Ads. There, you can view all the ad interests you are being targeted by, as well as in how many contacts lists used by advertisers your email makes an appearance. You will be surprised… The good thing is that you can turn off certain interests you think are not relevant or advertisers who have misused your information.
Continue with Instagram
Browse your Instagram footprint:
Similarly to Facebook, Instagram has a feature which lets you download all of your information stored on its servers. You will notice that, again, everything is stored - from posts you shared to direct messages you sent. What’s troubling is that it has access to all of your phone contacts even if they’re not on Instagram. Also, as Instagram is owned by Facebook, that the two platforms exchange information.
How about search engines?
Here things get creepy. We all know how it works - you have a question or a problem, you ask Google. Google answers. Sometimes though, you’d prefer to have your search in private and not have one of the biggest corporations in the world know about your most intimate problems, using this information to target you with ads you wish your colleagues wouldn’t see. Here’s a sample of the information Google stores:All your searches: https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity
Apparently, this is the first thing that they would store. Your search history includes YouTube searches as well. The good thing is that you have the option to delete whole topics or date ranges from the history!Your ad settings: https://adssettings.google.com/authenticated
Google states that the ads you see in its products and display network are “based on personal info you've added to your Google Account, data from advertisers that partner with Google, and Google's estimation of your interests”. Again, you can edit these to match your profile better (or mislead Google, if that’s your thing).
Apps that have access to your account:
Google sign-in is really the easiest way to sign in to a variety of websites and apps. But you never know if the app will not use the account information you gave it access to with malicious intent. Facebook had this problem with Cambridge Analytica and is now focusing on a close inspection of each app which requests access to user information (not only for logging in). Google also has its screening process but just to be on the safe side - take a look at the apps from time to time and delete old ones you’re not using from the list.
Pause all activity storage:
You have the option to pause all activity storage on the platform. Obviously, this will affect the way it looks and feels - but you’ll have a piece of mind.
Download all your data:
This includes data from all Google products you have ever used. If you feel like it, press Download - but it will take you a lifetime to sort through the ocean of information stored in the takeout.
Having access to these tools will make you more aware of the information you are willingly but sometimes unknowingly sharing with social media platforms and search engines. It will help you regain control over your digital persona and adjust it accordingly. But remember that every time you take an action on a social media platform or search engine, this is a new record on your file!