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How Secure is Your Favorite Social Media App?

Introduction

We all use social media. The platform we prefer might differ, but 59% of the people around the globe have some form of it. Chances are, you do use an app to connect with friends online, too.

The top five most popular social media platforms are:

  1. Facebook

  2. YouTube

  3. WhatsApp

  4. Instagram

  5. TikTok

Do you use any of these? Then you need to know about the security risks that come with the territory.

Facebook

Facebook has a lot of settings that can be toggled on and off, depending on how much data you want to give it. From geo-location services that help you check into different places, to facial recognition for easy tagging in photos, to the cookies it collects to run sidebar ads relevant to your interests, the platform can keep a lot of data on you if you let it.

Those personalized ads that you get demonstrate how Facebook collects data far beyond what you do on its website. It can view your browser’s search history, and you may have heard the (unfounded) rumor that it can even listen in through your microphone! The hysteria does suggest just how much the website knows about its users, though.

YouTube

It may not surprise you that YouTube can see everything you search on the website, from the videos you watch to the playlists that you like. Tracking what you enjoy watching and how long you sit through videos helps the site make better recommendations on what you should watch next, with the goal of keeping you browsing and engaged. That’s also why they ask your opinions on ads that pop up before some videos; it’s all to personalize the experience.

Remember, though, YouTube is owned by Google. All of that data goes back to the mega-corporation, adding to their big picture of who you are (and all that backstory informs their video recommendations in return).

WhatsApp

On the plus side, WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted. That basically means that the messages are secured from your device to the recipient’s; they’re also scrambled as “tokens” that can’t be read unless decrypted, so the communication is protected even in transit.

That doesn’t mean that the platform isn’t collecting data on you, however. The database saves your messages, the timestamp, and who was in the message thread. That can all be accessed later.

Did you know? The app can also access location services, your contact list, and all of your media too! Be careful what permissions you toggle on whenever you download a new app.

Instagram

A few years ago, Facebook actually bought Instagram, so a lot of their data collection methods are similar. Meanwhile, this collaboration also means that Facebook can access your Instagram data and vice versa — which doubles the amount of information that you could be inputting into the same database, without realizing it’s all going to the same place.

Plenty of people also use Instagram to shop online or learn about worldwide news. Instagram also takes into account what you look at and how long so as to send more personalized ads to your feed.

Convenient, or creepy? That’s up to you to decide.

TikTok

A string of controversies concerning data mining and privacy leaks on TikTok have made headlines in the last few years, but that doesn’t seem to be slowing the app down much: It currently boasts over 1B users worldwide, compared to 655.9M just two years ago.

Despite the wide audience, tech researchers have found that TikTok can do all sorts of covert tracking across all your apps and networks, although the social media app refutes these data collection claims. It has also been criticized for its lack of safety measures and unwillingness to suspend user accounts deemed to be engaging in predatory behavior, which is particularly concerning given the apps’ appeal to a mostly younger demographic. Although children under 13 have additional privacy settings on their profiles, there are still safety concerns; and anyway, we all know how easy it is to fake our ages online.

Conclusion

Protect yourself on social media apps: Use a fake name and email address if possible (but don’t go around catfishing anyone!). Alternatively, some applications don’t require you to sign in at all — TikTok, for example, can be used without signing in. While this won’t stop that app from collecting data, it can’t be traced back to an individual user, either.

Use VPNs whenever possible, too, as this will protect the anonymity of your searches. Virtual private networks hide your IP address, so your browsing appears to come from a distant, encrypted server.

How much data are YOU giving away on a daily basis, just by using the social media apps that you enjoy the most? The more you know about toggling privacy settings and who can see what, the smarter choices you can make about your Internet browsing experience.

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