How do social media platforms handle and protect user data?

In a world dominated by data, how exactly do social media platforms handle user data?

If you use social media, data protection is probably important to you. But if you advertise on social media, security is even more important.

Advertisers have more assets in the hands of social media platforms than standard users.

Advertisers are doing business with the social media companies, not just using the platform. As an advertiser, you’ve got more sensitive information on the social media servers than most people.

So you probably want to know exactly how the social media platforms handle all that information, right?

There’s good news and bad news on this topic.

We’ll start with the good news and end on a bright note so this isn’t all doom and gloom.

How social media platforms handle user data

The first thing to know is what data is most valuable to social media companies.

Since social media is paid for by advertising, the information that’s valuable to advertisers is what social media platforms want to collect and aggregate so that it’s useful.

The bulk of this data is behavioral metadata. That means that things like your name, phone number, address and credit card information aren’t that important to social media companies.

What they’re more interested in is the type of things you like a comment on, the websites you visit most frequently and the things you buy most.

Basically, they just want to know what you’re doing so they can better target their ads.

This is good for advertisers. Social media platforms are on your side, since you’re one of the people writing the checks.

Each company has its own terms of service. But in general, they all function more or less the same.

Social media companies will share behavioral data with people who have apps that integrate with the social media platform. This excludes names, addresses, phone numbers and credit card numbers. It’s strictly demographic and behavior information.

The rules are that apps can utilize the data inside the social media platform. If the developer shares the information with someone outside the platform, it’s a violation of the terms of service and that app gets removed.

So the good news is that the data that relates to your financial and physical security is never shared with third parties.

How social media platforms protect user data

Even though social media platforms are selective about what information they share, all that data is still stored on a server somewhere. Data breaches are old news by now.

So how do they keep all that data safe?

Standard practice is to keep the data encrypted while it’s being stored on the server. Then access to the servers themselves is restricted. Sensitive data is also encrypted whenever it’s transmitted as well.

Anyone who wants to actually read the information needs a super secret decoding key to unlock the data.

The challenge is that people are constantly working to crack the codes and gain access to the information since it’s potentially very valuable.

It’s tough to keep up with all these attempts to break in and maintain security in a large organization. It’s quite common that security breaches come from inside a company.

So data breaches are going to happen. Unfortunately, this is almost entirely out of your hands.

How to protect your data on social media

Your personal information is largely unchanging. Most people just don’t move or change their name that often. You can remove much of this information from your social media profiles if you want to minimize what can be stolen in a data breach.

The information that you’re constantly adding to the social media data stores is information about what you do on the platform.

So, the best solution is to use social media less.

But not everybody wants to do this.

If you’d like to minimize your behavioral footprint while still getting your social media fix, reduce your engagement on the platform.

What you like, what you comment on and the things you share give social media platforms the most behavioral information. Scrolling your timeline reveals very little about you. So the more time you spend just browsing, the less information you’re offering up.

Social media platforms do their best to protect your sensitive information, while still supplying advertisers and app developers with the information they need to make the best use of the platform.

Unfortunately, the protections are imperfect.

So it ultimately falls on us, the user, to control how much information we hand over to social media companies.

What do you do to protect yourself on social media?

If you’re still on social media, tag us and let us know how you take care of your information!

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