InfoSec Blog - How 'Social' Should Social Media Be?

November 10, 2017

You may have read recent (or not so recent) reports about how much information Social Media has about each of us. And while the sheer treasure trove of information is unimaginably huge, closely guarded algorithms (software) combine this personal data in ways that allows companies to draw additional conclusions about you as a person, your interests, your financial habits, your relationship habits, your travel, and your purchases. Sometimes the algorithms are wrong, even spectacularly, often they are right, even embarrassingly so. In order to work the way we want them to, Social Media software needs information about us. In order to work the ways the company and its investors need them to (above all to make money), they need more information about us, and combine it with everyone else’s information about us.  What’s the right balance? 

As with many such questions, as a society we need to find the right balance over time, and surely we will.  Privacy is important, services are important, our social interactions are important, and as these interests jockey for position, and issues sometimes get resolved in the courts, the landscape will become clearer over time. In the meantime, if we are interested in keeping our privacy, what can we as individuals do?  Here are some pieces of advice:

  • Think about the four levels of sharing -  global (how openly will I share?), community (who will I share with?), digital identity (who will I share as?), and transaction (will I share this particular item?) * 
  • Be deliberate about the privacy settings of all your social media accounts. Avoid global settings of “public”, but instead choose whether you want to share individual items publicly. Check the settings periodically in case an update changed them.
  • Be extremely cautious about sharing your full contact list with anyone, (person, app, platform).  It is almost certainly not in your best interest. Do you want a professional “friend” (client?) introduced to a close personal friend? Someone you bought an item from to a family member? You may also be sharing very private information without the owner’s permission.
  • Check the privacy reputation of the software/platform you are planning to use.  There are some good impartial sources, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  
  • Do not be afraid to leave a site and delete your account if you are no longer comfortable.  
  • Be an advocate for the privacy of your personal information. Canada has a number of privacy laws, such as FIPPA, PHIPPA, and FOIA among others.  The U of G also has a number of policies and practices to protect your privacy. Search for “Privacy” on our website to get started.

This post only scratches the surface.  Search the internet for “Social Media Privacy” to get much more.  Find the balance in your own online activities, share and be social with your eyes wide open, and enjoy the advantages today’s technology can bring!


Written by: Gerrit Bos (IT Security Officer, CCS Information Security)

* (Source: EDUCAUSE Review, Nov/Dec 2017)