The small business' ultimate guide to social media and privacy

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Humans are social beings. And even though some people may prefer their own company to that of others, most crave some level of connectivity. By our very nature, we seek to invite others into our lives, to share in our joy, pain, successes, failures and whatever we just ate for breakfast (especially if it photographs well). So it’s no wonder that we took to the Internet and social media specifically like moths to a flame. The first social media networks like Friendster and Facebook proved the medium’s power as a great way to keep in touch with old acquaintances and meet new people. But a natural by-product of this hyper-connectivity has been hyper-sharing. Social media platforms turned out to be the perfect place for people to showcase their lives with every one of their thousands of connections – from people they knew to others they connected with on a whim.

Let the data feeding frenzy begin

Marketers and advertisers (and criminals too) picked up on this behavior and realized that all this data could be used to create laser-targeted marketing campaigns. The result? Data has become marketing gold. Today, marketers track and analyze just about everything you do and say on social media and the Internet. Unless you’re actively trying to prevent them from peering into every aspect of your life, they’ll figure out just where to look to get the data they want. This unquenchable thirst for your data is one of the reasons that using the Internet and social media is so perilous.

Can privacy and social media co-exist?

While some privacy experts claim that you need to end your relationship with social media if you value your privacy, the truth is you don’t really have to go that far. There are measures you can take to reclaim your privacy and still maintain a social media presence. So in honor of Safer Internet Day, here are 10 simple steps you can take to reestablish your long-lost privacy:

How to protect your small business’ privacy on social media

  • Be a connection snob – Realize that you don’t need to accept every friend/connection request you get. The fewer people you are connected to, the smaller your personal attack surface is. So be a snob and just say “no”.
  • Don’t post personal info – So you’re dying to post pictures of your skiing trip to Vale. Or you’d love to shout from the rooftops (okay, your smartphone) that your kid got into her top choice university. Resist your urge to post everything because this is exactly what advertisers collect to make their composite profile of you. Similarly, don’t publish personal information such as your phone number, birthday, address, etc. 
  • Take advantage of privacy settings – Making sure your privacy settings are enabled properly will go a long way toward maintaining your confidentiality. However, each platform has its own customization settings, so here is a quick overview of how to enable them on some of the biggest platforms:
  • Facebook: FB offers varying levels of privacy. You can choose from the following: Only me – Only you will be able to see your content (we’re not quite sure where the fun in this setting is, but we guess we’re happy it’s available. Custom – Allows you to share or block content with certain people or lists. Friends – Only friends will be able to see this content. Public – Anyone, anywhere can see this content
  • Instagram: On this visuals-driven platform, all posts are public by default, which means they can be seen by anyone at any time. You can change this setting by going to the “Edit your profile” tab and enabling the “Posts are private” setting.
  • Twitter: By default, anyone, whether they have a Twitter account or not, can see your tweets. Change this by going to “Settings” and choosing “security and privacy”. Where it says “privacy”, pick the option that says “protect my tweets”. This will allow only the people that you select to see your tweets and your tweets will not come up in Google searches.
  • Use better passwords – Passwords are an annoying and cumbersome part of the digital world. There. We said it. But while we really hate coming up with unique and complex passwords, they are what stands between our social media accounts and hackers looking to breach them.  Therefore, it’s good to know how to make a rock-solid password. It should be at least 10 characters long, and contain numbers, capitals, and special characters, and not contain names or words. Also, passwords should be unique for each social media account. Another good practice is multi-factor authentication. Sure, it makes it a bit more complicated to enter your accounts, but it also makes them far more secure. Read all about enabling multi-factor authentication across your social platforms here.
  • Use a reputable antivirus  – Even if you’re super careful on social media, malware may still make its way on to your system. Make sure you have a powerful managed antivirus for company in place to catch and quarantine any infiltrators.
  • Manage your third party apps – You may love a good game of Texas Hold’em or Cookie Jam but these apps can seriously compromising your privacy. When you allow access to these apps, you give them access to all the data stored in your social media accounts. It’s smart to review your third party app permissions on a regular basis, and revoke access to the ones you no longer use.
  • Don’t store payment information – If you want to send cash to a friend in a flash, don’t mind paying for online games, or have a small business and use social media ads as part of your marketing strategy, this tip is for you. Never store payment information in your accounts. If one of the platforms you use is breached, there goes your credit card info. If you  have your payment information stored there, delete it immediately.
  • Avoid clickbait, fake news, and free downloads – Social media loves controversy and nothing gets shared like clickbait and fake news. The really bad news about this is that these posts often contain malicious links that may load malware onto your devices. The same goes for free downloads that are often shared around social media platforms. These links are often stuffed with malware. So be smart and keep away from inflammatory titles, gut-wrenching subject lines, and free stuff.
  • Turn off location services – Here is something you probably don’t want to think about: when your social media location services are enabled, you are broadcasting your location each time you post pictures and status updates. Not only does this mean that criminals know when you’re out and about, which may provide them with a window of time in which they can break into your home, it means that super creepy criminals can trail you. We mean physically follow you. The wise thing to do? Turn off your location services. Most, if not all social media platforms let you do this. 
  • Beware of phishing scams – Scammers love social media. We all know about the horror stories; the US army vet who got swindled out of his life savings by a Facebook “friend”, well-intentioned donors who meant to pledge their hard-earned money to hurricane and tsunami victims but got bamboozled by fake Red Cross Facebook pages. And it’s not just a Facebook problem; LinkedIn has its fair share of job-related scams to. Scam victims have been known to supply scammers with incredibly damaging information, including their bank account details and social security numbers. Snapchat and Instagram are just as bad. There are weight loss scams, Bitcoin scams, scams that promise to add thousands of followers to your account overnight and more. Then there are influencer scams, wherein a supposed “influencer” promises to teach you their secret to fame and wealth – all for the low, low price of $1000-2000.

Never let your guard down

While you don’t need to completely detach yourself from social media, if you value your privacy, you do need to understand the risks and act accordingly. The internet is filled with all kinds of pitfalls and social media is one of the worst offenders. The most important piece of advice for successfully navigating the murky waters of maintaining privacy on social media is to always keep your wits about you and never trust anything or anybody. Period.