3 Tips for Protecting Your Privacy on Social Media
The following is a post from our podcast guest, Chris Martin. To hear more from Chris, check out the conversation we had with him on our recent episode.
I write about social media and its effects on us. I am a Christian, so I write from a Christian perspective, and it is likely that most of my readers are Christians. Without a doubt, the most common concern I hear among my readers about social media and the internet is censorship.
I get it. There has been a significant number of high-profile censorship issues on social media platforms over the years. And these are no small concerns! The First Amendment and the right to free speech is a cornerstone of democracy and of preserving human dignity, so it is obviously important that it be upheld in whatever ways are possible and appropriate on the internet.
But the very real and very obvious concerns that many Christians have about censorship frankly pale in comparison to the concerns we should have about privacy.
“I Don’t Have Anything to Hide.”
The most common retort I hear, most often from Christians, when I write or speak about the importance of privacy on the internet is this: “Why should I care about privacy? I don’t have anything to hide.”
This is when it is important to recognize the difference between secrecy and privacy. A common way of describing the difference between secrecy and privacy is to say that secrecy is about hiding something while privacy is about the freedom “to be left alone,” as former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said.
I have often joked with those who say, “I don’t care about privacy; I don’t have anything to hide,” by saying, “Well, sure, I don’t have anything to hide either, but I still close the door when I go to the bathroom.”
Of course, you may have nothing to hide, but you would still be appropriately freaked out if someone installed a bunch of cameras in your home while you were out of town on vacation! We all want some measure of privacy, even if we don’t have anything to hide.
A Bad Trade We Willingly Make
The problem is that many of us are willing to trade our privacy for the opportunity of personal expression on the internet. We will happily exchange our location data for the ability to put our location on our Instagram stories. We give Spotify access to our photo libraries upon signing up so that we can adjust our profile picture as necessary. We post dozens of photos of our children on Facebook for the world to see because “Why not?”
We willingly trade our data to express ourselves because when we express ourselves most fully, we accrue more likes, comments, and other forms of engagement that make us feel valuable. And data for hollow affection is a trade we are all too happy to make.
Hear Chris share on how behavioral psychologists have helped design social media platforms to keep us on them as much as possible.
But do we ever stop to think about what leaking all of this data around the internet may do to us? Do we consider what people may be doing with those photos of our children we post? Do we think about what Instagram (and its parent company, Meta) may do with all of our location data?
Worse, do we think about what could happen if all of that data fell into the wrong hands, as it does far too often? What do we even do to safeguard our data on social media and the internet more broadly?
Here are three practical steps you can take to protect your privacy on social media and lock down as much of your information as possible:
- Turn Location Services Off.
Most social media apps will ask you to turn on Location Services to access special features associated with their platforms. Instagram, for instance, will let you add locations or local temperatures to your stories if you have Location Services activated.
Most people, wanting these location-based features, turn on location services without thinking twice. If you want to keep these apps from always knowing where you are, you should turn Location Services off and learn to live without those extra features.
- Limit the Personal Information You Share.
I have read a handful of stories over the years about people who had their homes robbed while on vacation because they boasted on Facebook about their ten-day Hawaiian excursion and someone with whom they were “friends” decided to take advantage of that information.
Take some time and browse your social media profiles pretending you’re a stranger coming across your page: What kind of information are you freely giving up about yourself? Is your address in the background of a Facebook profile picture? Did you accidentally take a picture of your credit card on the table when snapping a picture of your date night for Instagram? Could someone create a family tree of your entire living family based on profile information? Why would you willingly give this information up? What do you gain? Pay attention to what you share about yourself.
- Dig into Platform Privacy Settings.
Most social media platforms you use have the ability to give you more privacy than you have by default. Platforms like Facebook do not make privacy settings strict by default because the more strictly you lock down your information, the less information can be gathered about you, and the less valuable advertisements are.
Facebook, as an example, would be in a bad place if everyone on the platform turned on the most restrictive privacy settings they make available. But you can find settings that restrict the information Facebook gathers about you! Just navigate to the “Privacy” settings within Facebook and go through the different options. You should do this on every app you have, frankly, whether or not it’s social media.
I could list a dozen more ways to take control of your privacy on social media, but you can find those yourself if you want.
One of the most common concerns I hear about the internet and privacy today is, “The government could track us and know everything about us.” While we haven’t seen an abuse of social media like that yet, is Facebook or Google tracking you and knowing everything about you that much better? What if we’re so concerned about one privacy boogey-man that we’ve willingly embraced another?
These platforms have some features to support user privacy, but they only go so far. The only real way to free ourselves of the privacy violations we may experience via the social internet would be to abstain from the platforms completely.
Most of us feel either unwilling or unable to do that. It’s understandable. I would love to disconnect from the social internet completely when I think about the potential privacy violations, but I love too much of it to disconnect completely.
What is most important is that we recognize the poison in the water. We must be vigilant to recognize which platforms are more grievous offenders of our privacy than others. We must be willing to recognize that every click, tap, like, and comment is a drip, drip, drip of data we deposit into the vast well of data that many want to use for their profit and our loss.
Want to hear more from Chris Martin on internet privacy and the real cost of social media? Check out our recent episode!
Posted by Chris Martin