Social Media

What you need to know:

Social media networks, in addition to storing your general personal information (like name, DOB, occupation, email and phone number) also track everything you do on the site or app, which can include your likes, posts, comments, conversation, places you’ve visited and your network. They can also have access to your general location (through your IP address) and even more precise location (if given access to your phone’s GPS location).

Certain social media networks also have the ability to track you outside of their platform utilizing plug-ins and code placed on sites across the web and in apps, along with arrangements with other tech companies. 

Finally, these companies can also buy supplemental data from data brokers to understand offline behavioral data along with additional demographic and personal details, allowing these networks to create a full comprehensive profile of you.

Almost all social media networks make money through advertising by providing advertisers with the ability to target specific groups of individuals based on factors like demographic, interests, profiles and activity (on and off the network’s platform). The more data these networks have on you, the more targeted and powerful the advertising they sell can be, increasing profits for the company.


Beyond social media networks themselves, third parties can directly access your public profile information to use for a variety of purposes. One troubling example of this are private databases that compile images of individuals sourced from social media. These databases when coupled with facial recognition technology, essentially act as search engines for people.

These databases are used by many law enforcement agencies and some have even been licensed to private companies. The companies that operate these databases are highly opaque and some fear that one day this technology can be made available to just about anyone and could destroy our ability to be anonymous in any setting.

Learn More:

Overview of social media privacy issues, while keeping in mind how they make money

All the data Facebook collects and all the ways it can track you

Facebook’s data sharing arrangements with other tech giants, how it stopped using data from brokers amid criticisms and the Cambridge Analytica scandal

Learn the powerful ways in which advertisers can target consumers on social media networks like Facebook and Instagram

How Tiktok was spying on what users typed outside of its app

Learn about Twitter’s hacking incident and the 1K employees that can change user’s settings and account ownership

Read here about Clearview’s facial recognition technology built from social media data and the private companies that have access to it

Here for a John Oliver video segment about facial recognition

What to do:

You can reduce some tracking on the web by utilizing ad blockers.

Generally, you can also adjust privacy settings to reduce data collection:

For Facebook, you can adjust certain privacy settings. You can also click here to download a copy of your Facebook data and refer to this guide to see what Facebook knows about your off platform activity.

For Instagram, see here for a guide to adjusting privacy settings and here to download your data.

For Twitter, see here for a guide to privacy and here to download your archive.

For LinkedIn, here for a guide with instructions on how to download your data.