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Guidry: How to improve your social media privacy

Facebook and other social media sites are facing increased questions about privacy, in the wake of recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s use of consumer data. Here’s how you can evaluate and improve the privacy of your own social media accounts.

As a result of this increased scrutiny, Facebook and other sites are changing the way users can access, review, and download their data. Facebook has improved its security and privacy features, which you will find under Settings. Other sites offer similar features. Google, for example, walks consumers through the process of locking down their Google accounts.

Our personal details may not seem valuable, but when aggregated with other data, they can be a marketing gold mine. They can also be used against us. For example, many online polls ask questions that are similar to the security questions used by banks, like “Where did you go to high school?” or “What was the name of your first pet?” By collecting this data from your social media, a criminal can gain access to your bank accounts. Is playing a fun Facebook poll worth trading access to your bank account? Most people would say no, yet many still click without thinking of the potential consequences.

As the Cambridge Analytica situation demonstrates, innocuous-looking social media apps and polls can be a smokescreen for data collection. The apps may be fun, but the privacy risk is not. Limit which apps you use on social media, and only use apps from reputable developers. Remember, app reviews can be faked. Periodically check your app permissions and adjust them accordingly. Ask yourself, am I willing to trade access to my private information in exchange for the features offered by this app? If the answer is no, or you’re not certain, consider not using it.

It’s not just our own privacy we need to be concerned about, but that of our friends. Many people received notices from Facebook that, although they themselves did not use the app used by Cambridge Analytica, some of their friends did. If you have people on your friends list who are not careful about sharing, remind them of the risks. If they continue, and are putting your own information at risk, you might want to mute or even unfriend them. It’s also worth going through your friends list and removing people you no longer talk to, or whom you met once years ago and haven’t spoken to since.

Now is a good time to change your password to a strong one that is not used elsewhere, and to enable two-factor authentication. As always, use a good antivirus product. Modern web browsers offer features that can help protect consumer privacy.

Remember, nothing on the Internet is truly private, no matter what the settings are. Data can be stored and transferred in ways that are difficult if not impossible for consumers to track. It’s up to us to decide how much information we are willing to divulge online. You can still share, but before you do, ask yourself if this is information you’re willing to make public. When in doubt, don’t post.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer. Her Tech Tips blog www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips offers tech support advice for Windows and Mac.

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