The recent controversy surrounding Facebook has the public alarmed about their data privacy on social media websites, and this concern is warranted according to leading experts in information privacy industries. Social media users need to understand the type of information that is being gathered and the methods through which their information is being taken to combat this serious technological concern.

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Mobile Devices and Apps

Advancements in technology have led to the widespread adoption of internet-connected mobile devices. While smartphones have several advantages, few understand the serious data privacy risks that such mobile devices pose. Mobile devices collect and store an unprecedented amount of information on the user such as constant GPS location updates, places the user frequents, websites often visited, items purchased online, types of content browsed for online, google searches, addresses, account information, banking data and even bio-metric information like facial features and fingerprints. This small list barely breaches the surface of the extent of data that is collected.

The Conversation recently conducted a research study into smartphone apps, and the group discovered that around 70 percent of apps are sharing data with third-party services. Even more startling, most apps do not entirely reveal their policies on user privacy with the users.

Data Brokers

These facts are both disturbing and concerning for anyone who advocates for internet privacy. Data brokers are one of the internet’s secrets that hide in plain sight, and they are often the ‘third-parties’ referred to by app developers or social media websites. Data brokers are information experts who specialize in collecting, managing and selling massive amounts of data taken from other sources. A data broker makes money by collecting information about one person from various sources, combining it into a profile and then selling it to advertisers. Advertisers frequently utilize this information in their advertisement and marketing campaigns. A lack of privacy laws regarding internet data means that data brokers are not only legal entities, but they are massive money makers. NPR reports that Acxiom, one of the world’s leading data brokers, makes around $800 million in revenue a year. The Federal Trade Commission, which is tasked with regulating data brokers, admits they are unsure how many data broker agencies are in existence.

The real danger in data brokers is their unique ability to compile information from various sources, such as the various apps and social media websites individual’s frequent, to create a detailed and accurate prediction about the type of person that individual is.

Types of Information Being Collected

ProPublica lists a detailed report on the types of information that a data broker collects. This list includes data like individual’s names, phone numbers, age, addresses, birthday, race, occupation, education level, hobbies, purchases, pay stub information, preferences and life-event triggers. Life-event triggers include things like getting married, having a child, getting a divorce, purchasing a home or car or sending a child to college. Social media websites like Facebook also collect information about links you click on, pages you visit, pages you follow or like, private messages and even internet activity conducted outside of Facebook’s platform.

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Scandal has made internet users more aware of the business practices that social media websites, mobile apps and other internet entities are utilizing to boost profits. Social media users need to know about the type of information being collected and the methods being used to help protect data privacy for future internet users.