Check your settings: Your data is not as safe as you think

Caitlyn Schlaman, Staff Writer

Most people spend hours on social media sites such as Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, yet few Americans may understand what privacy rights they’re giving up.

Recently, several court cases that have gained media attention, such as Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing, Twitter’s scandal with Dataminr, and the exposure of the three media giants feeding Geofeedia data. With all the buzz over data privacy, it begs the question: Do students know how to protect themselves online?

Most students between 12 to 18 use Snapchat and Instagram. Both have a simple privacy policy, with small protections such as choosing what information can be collected and who it can be sent to. However, your freedom to control your privacy settings is limited. Students can decide that Instagram can’t use their data anymore, but most people don’t care for the terms of service and do not actively go into the settings to limit what information the social media giant is using. These data bits being mined, by the way, are the sites and other applications you have visited. 


It’s not just social media giants either, the innocent popup about a free iPhone is malicious too. That video link you saw shared on Twitter? That video link could house hidden malware, that tracks your location and steal your private information. Even with cookies, especially HTTP cookies, malicious trackers could be planted into your device. These trackers give third-party companies access to what sites you are visiting, and what specifically you are interested in. This is how the specific ads show up on Instagram and “target” the consumer. The worst part about these trackers is that the average consumer does not know about them.

So what is California doing to protect its residents? Recently, California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018. This act, which is going in effect by 2020, highlights the importance of California residents and their privacy rights. Ultimately, the whole act is about the importance of ad targeting and selling information. This act was created in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a huge issue with Facebook not alerting their users about Cambridge Analytica selling their data. However, the issue with this act is that many are complaining about how rushed it was. Also, the act would create a global issue with the world wide web, as trying to change a company’s internet protocol for one are of the world, is too much work. Also, many sites use this structure of selling ads about what the specific consumer likes and observes to generate revenue.

Students can protect themselves by being aware and checking their privacy settings. Don’t think you have to learn about every privacy law on the internet, just look into what you are agreeing to. It’s always good to protect your data.