Be skeptical of social media sites

Here’s a hard reality we all must accept: Our favorite social media platforms–from Snapchat to LinkedIn–don’t care about our personal data. And by “don’t care,” I mean they only care insofar as they can leverage our data to further their business agenda.

There are some who think when they use social media they aren’t really giving away their personal information. They may naively assume, for example, Facebook only collects information you go through the effort to share. However, this is untrue for most of the tech platforms we use in are day-to-day lives. On most social media sites, there are third-party applications and plug-ins that, once you give them your permission, can collect various pieces of information about you without your knowledge.

A relatively benign example of this is when you use your Facebook or Gmail account as a proxy to log into music streaming sites like Spotify, Pandora or SoundCloud. You may not have any intention of posting with these third-party applications, but as soon as you give them permission, they can access all your past public information as well as any future information.

Even if you don’t give permission to these platforms, there are ways they can gain access to your private information. One pernicious way in which this is done is by exploiting those you engage with the most: your friends. Specifically, several social media platforms have features in which your friends can give information about you without your permission, and vice versa.

For instance, let’s say I’m joining Twitter for the first time, and need help finding friends to follow. What Twitter (and many other sites) will do is ask to look through my phone or email contact list in order to match me with my friends. As soon as I allow them access to do so, they are privy to all my contacts’ personal information and can do what ever they want with it. This happens all the time and is done so without the knowledge of those it effects.

This all leads me to the recent Facebook data breach, in which some 87 million users’ data was unknowingly collected, sold to a political consulting firm, and used by the Donald Trump presidential campaign. The problem isn’t that personal data was used by a political campaign, but, more tragically, Facebook happily collected this data with the objective to profit off of it.

The fact that networking platforms care little of our private information in no better highlighted than when Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress last week. With a cold disposition, Zuckerberg revealed that not only did Facebook approve apps to collect peoples’ private information, but also fail to notify said users when their data is inevitably sold off to advertising, political, and government firms.

We have begrudgingly accepted that our government collects personal information about us, but there still remains a blind spot when it comes to our view of tech-networking companies. If there’s one key point to remember about social networking sites, it is this: Their main goal is not to give you a great experience connecting with friends, family, or people of interest. Their main goal is to amass data from users and sell it to advertisers.

Markell Braxton-Johnson is a sports and leisure junior.