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Mar 20, 2018

Social media users should never assume 'private means private,' experts warn

Facebook's premise is 'almost the antithesis of privacy,' says SocialFlow CEO


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Cybersecurity experts are warning social media users to be more vigilant with the personal information they share online as tech giant Facebook faces growing backlash this week on news that a third-party company accessed its users’ data without their consent.

Jim Anderson, chief executive of social marketing firm SocialFlow told BNN in an interview Tuesday that people should keep their “eyes wide open” on the extent to which they choose to participate on Facebook or any other online platform.

“You provide them with your personal information to the degree they understand who your friends are and who you like; what musical acts, movies, and television shows you like,” he said.

“All of that is being stored and analyzed in ways that ultimately try to advance their and their advertisers’ commercial interests.”

Facebook continued to face scrutiny on Tuesday after reports this past weekend that London-based political research firm Cambridge Analytica was able to collect data from 50 million user profiles.

The firm worked on Facebook ads with U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2016 elections, providing information on voters.

Anderson said that while social media users have the right to expect a degree of privacy, the reality is that social networks gather data and use it.

“The reality, though of course, is if you are a Facebook user and you’ve been using it for a while, your data probably has been seen in ways that you didn’t know about and or, might not be comfortable with and that is not unique to Facebook,” he said.

While Facebook is being accused of mishandling data, Anderson points out that the usage of data from the social network was not a data breach like we’ve seen in the past from companies such as credit reporting agency Equifax, ride-sharing app Uber and dating website Ashley Madison to name a few.



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    But as fears continue to rise over the privacy of personal information online, analysts said there are always measures that people can take to protect themselves.

    The number one way to ensure that a company cannot share data about you is to not share it with the company in the first place, said Lee Brotherston, Director of Security at Wealthsimple.

    “Having a complete profile is not generally mandatory to use a social network,” he said.

    “By completing your location, education, workplace, age, marital status, etc., you are providing a large amount of demographic data to social networks.”

    Below is a list of some other tips from Wealthsimple to protect your personal information:

    Don't assume private means private: Don't assume a non-public account means that your likes and posts, which may disclose something private about you, are indeed private. Friends, applications, and the social network itself all have access to these.

    Don't install “applications”: When applications or web browsers ask for access to your location details, address book, etc., you can deny this request. These applications can gain access to some or all of your account. There are rogue applications out there — they masquerade as something innocent but actually exist to harvest information about you.

    Secure your browser: If accessing via a browser (as opposed to a mobile app), ensure that you have secured your browser.  Apply all the latest patches, and install an ad blocker such as uBlock Origin. Ads and trackers can be used to collect information on your browsing habits.

    Be careful who you “friend”: Be conscious of who you “friend” on social networks. Sometimes you do not need to be the source of an information leak yourself - a “friend” could be accidentally leaking information and bringing you along for the ride.


    Kevin Delaney, security consultant at Security Compass, points out that people should be mindful of what’s in background photos you post that you may not want to be public such as your house, address or licence plate.

    “If someone you would normally trust is asking you to provide sensitive information over social media, call them first to confirm their identity - accounts can be easily compromised,” he added.

    Overall, experts say it is important to visit the privacy section of your social media account to restrict your posts and photos from the public.

    But Delaney adds that your privacy settings are only as secure as the people that you’re sharing with.

    “Remember it is very easy for someone to screenshot or copy and paste anything you post,” he said.

    Meanwhile, Ed Dubrovsky, managing director Cytelligence says it’s always important to remember that “you are not alone” when you’re surfing online.

    “Almost every site you visit, you are being tracked. The sites you visit, let alone post information at, tell a lot about who you are,” he said. “That information is valuable to someone and as such, it is being collected.”