Social media giant’s $5 billion fine and your privacy: What should you do now?

You may be one of the tens of millions of Facebook users whose personal information was improperly transferred to a political data analytics firm.

As a result, Facebook on July 24 agreed to pay a record $5 billion FTC fine for consumer privacy violations. The company also agreed to improve its data-privacy practices.

What does this mean for you?

Details from the Facebook settlement show how difficult it can be to protect your personal information after you share it with a social media company or other data-driven organizations.

And keep in mind: Just about any time you engage with a business online or surf the web, you share information. That might include not only payment card information you enter, but also your location, your IP address, and what you click on.

Here are a few lessons you can glean from the FTC’s investigation and settlement with Facebook, as well as steps you can take to help protect your privacy on social media.

3 lessons from the Facebook investigation

The FTC’s investigation of Facebook’s practices provides at least three lessons — or reminders — about the privacy risks of sharing your personal information on social media.

Lesson 1: “Free” social media services often aren’t free.

You probably know that the information you share— which can even include “likes,” comments, and clicks on articles — can be used to make money.

A Wall Street Journal article points out, Facebook “earns almost all its profits from selling advertising that targets users based on their online behavior.” 

The lesson here? Consider what information you’re sharing and take steps to limit how much of your data can be tracked.

Lesson 2: Your information may be shared with or sold to other parties

When you share information with a social media company, the sharing may not stop there.

That’s because, when you signed up for the service, you may have agreed to a privacy policy that allows the company to share your information with other businesses for marketing purposes.

The lesson to remember: When companies share information about you, it becomes more widely dispersed. You can’t be sure how well your information will be protected or who may gain access to it.

Lesson 3: You may not have the privacy protection you think you have

Sometimes agreements you thought you made with a company, for a variety of reasons, may not be honored or may be revised over time.

Here’s an example from the FTC’s Facebook investigation.

A CNN news report points out that the FTC investigation alleged Facebook “deceived ‘tens of millions of users’ by implying that a facial recognition feature on the service had not been enabled by default, when in fact it had.”

Facial recognition involves data — your data. The lesson: Even in cases where a privacy assurance might be violated inadvertently, the result is the same for you: You’ve lost some privacy.

6 tips to help protect your privacy on social media

Your personal information is in a lot of places, but there are things you can do to help protect your privacy on social media platforms.

Here are six quick tips that can help.

  1. Adjust your privacy settings on social platforms; these can change over time.
  2. Read the privacy policy when you sign up, and any notices of privacy policy updates.
  3. Limit what you share online.
  4. Know what personal information social sites store and share.
  5. Consider a VPN to help secure private information and prevent tracking.
  6. Rethink your social media presence.

These are broad suggestions, and you can find out more about how to help protect your privacy on social media.

The biggest lesson from the investigation of Facebook and its FTC settlement might be this: Your personal information has value and you have the right to protect it.

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