Locked down your social media? It’s an ‘illusion of control’ warns privacy expert | #socialmedia

“I posted pics of going back to school on Instagram, my IG is very small and limited to close friends and family only. Much of social media is also how you control your account with settings and who you accept as friends,” wrote a Cape Town based father of two recently, in response to our warning to avoid posting pics of your kids on social media. 

Also read: Tempted to post those first day of school photos on social media? Don’t do it   

This sentiment is common among parents, and many of us believe that as long as our social profiles are properly managed and our privacy settings are locked down, our families will be safe from online predators.

Parent24 asked readers how they feel when it comes to posting photos of their kids online, and 13% responded that they’re not worried, it’s just cute pics.

Where the threat is

Another 14% replied that since they have locked down their social media, they feel it’s safe to post their pictures on social media.  

Privacy consultant Candice le Sueur Fisher warns that this is not where the threat is.

“That’s what people don’t understand. It’s the companies that Facebook (who owns Instagram and WhatsApp) sell access to profiles to that is the problem,” she reveals.

“Your best privacy settings don’t protect against that. It’s an illusion of privacy… an illusion of control.”

Temptation to post 

Many people enjoy posting on social media, whether it be to share family pics and news easily and widely, or to create a timeline of events, or to stay in touch with far flung friends and family. 

Le Sueur Fisher explains that the older generation, especially, have an appreciation for creating records of history, which offers them “a sense of living on into the future, a bit of a sense of immortality – if your history is well-preserved – and I think that is why they do it,” she says. 

The problem is that they are not preserving history in a safe and sensible or even future-accessible manner.

“You are handing it over to a company who sells access to very detailed profiles to advertise, or essentially, to modify your behaviour” she warns. “And it’s very difficult to ever come out of that loop – once companies know and understand you, there is not much you can do. 

Ever felt like your phone is ‘listening’ to you?

“Someone told me about how a product she had spoken about to a friend was soon after featured on her friend’s social media. This probably happens because the profiles are too detailed and the connections are too clear,” Le Sueur Fisher says, confirming our suspicions.

“So the Facebook-Advertiser cluster knows that if she showed interest in a product, her friend might be interested too, especially if they are in the same age group and gender, so then they advertise the product to the friend as well. The fact that they spoke about it is just incidental… I hope.”

“The more you give away (about yourself) the less likely you are to just be free to think, and free to act and be free to decide, because you are being influenced every moment of the day: every time you open a screen there is something busy influencing you,” she says.

“And you can be super targeted, because of all the details that advertising network companies have, because they link information about you from across different platforms, across different uses of the internet and link it all together, and eventually they know you better than your own mother does,” she explains. 

Not friendly platforms

“I understand why people do share so much online, but they do not understand that these are not friendly platforms to help people build memories,” she says.

“It is absolutely a massively for-profit enterprise, and it is not regulated because America does not have a centralised federal privacy protection law or regulation,” Le Sueur Fisher adds.

So, truly, she tells us, if you go on to Facebook or Instagram, you are just not protected and nobody really understands the terms and conditions or privacy policy. 

She adds that if the senate in the US and the courts in the EU cannot get the whole truth out of companies like Facebook about what they do with personal information, how is the average person going to know what’s what? 

South African POPIA law

In South Africa, POPIA protects our recorded personal information 

Personal information could be linked to anything that can identify you, so it is not limited to being linked to your name. The categories include: 

  • Personal attributes like your language, age, gender, culture, origin, religion, marital status and sexual orientation. 
  • Your educational, medical, criminal and employment histories.
  • Your fingerprints, retina scans and voice profile.
  • Letters, emails, texts, or messages sent in private or in confidence.
  • Your opinions, and the opinions of others about you.
  • Your identifying numbers, like ID numbers and symbols that are unique to you, including your contact numbers, addresses and other data that can be used to locate you or identify you, like a Twitter handle. 

Read: Children can be exposed to sexual predators online, so how can parents teach them to be safe? 

Permissions and objections 

If someone wants to use your personal information, they do not necessarily need to ask for your permission, but you have the right to be informed, when your personal information is being collected, about how it will be used.

You have other rights too, including to object to the processing of your information. 

Information about how your information is going to be used and shared is often buried in dense Terms and Conditions or Privacy Notices that are easily overlooked or agreed to with a dismissive click.

But if your information privacy is important to you, then it’s worth reading through the Ts&Cs to find out exactly what you’re signing away.

Unfortunately, POPIA will not protect you against companies in other countries, who process your information outside of South Africa. 

Le Sueur Fisher adds that if you stay on social media and messaging platforms for private use, it’s still a good idea to have the best privacy settings available on your accounts. “It’s still necessary. It’s just not enough.”


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