In the era of connectivity, social networks have become a key part of our daily lives, including companies’ marketing strategies, allowing us to follow the things that interest us and easily engage with others. However, behind this seamless experience lies a number of social media privacy issues that everyone should consider. 

From data mining and targeted advertising to malware threats and harassment, understanding how your personal data can be accessed and abused is important to maintaining a semblance of digital privacy

Hand held phone showing floating social media apps

What is social media privacy and why is it important?

By its very nature, social media will always involve a degree of public exposure. You create an account and profile and often voluntarily share information with others. 

However, most people do not know the extent of data collected by social media companies and unwanted third parties. This involves tracking for advertising and to personalize what you see. 

That alone can be invasive, without mentioning cybercriminals, online bullies, and other threats.

Social media privacy is about taking back control, limiting what can be accessed by others, and applying extra security measures to prevent the worst kinds of privacy breaches.

What kind of data is collected on social media?

Legally, social media companies and their advertising partners are allowed to collect all sorts of information about your browsing habits, interests, and demographics. 

This includes technical info like the type of device and browser you’re using, how long you stay active, and the links you access. Internally, this is often used to improve the user experience. All this data helps businesses to proceed with their different approaches, like delivering personalized customer support across various social media channels.   

A basic example: If most people access the platform with a certain screen size, the developers may tweak things to display the content more clearly. 

Of course, this only scratches the surface of what is actually collected. Your age, gender, location, employment, relationship status, and consumer interests, are just a few areas that get bundled up for targeted advertising.

And we wonder why ads seem so accurate as if they are listening in?

Social media platforms also have an intimate map of what you engage with the most, so they can tailor which content appears in your feed and is more likely to keep you hooked on the app. This is what people mean when they talk about ‘the algorithm’. Additionally, check out these tips that can help you to increase brand awareness on social media

Most common threats 

Let’s further explore the most common threats and privacy issues with social media:

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Identity theft via data mining 

Identity theft is a form of fraud where someone steals your personal information and then impersonates you for financial gain or to commit other fraudulent activities.

It often starts with a process called data mining, which pulls publicly available info from your social media profiles, such as your name, DOB, address, contact info, and interests. 

What’s insidious about data mining is it doesn’t usually involve hacking your accounts in the beginning. A lot of this data is already shared by you publicly.

However, cybercriminals can combine this info with other illegally obtained data to further breach your personal privacy and even socially engineer their way into high-security accounts like banking.

This can lead to financial loss, damage to credit scores, and legal issues.

At the beginning stage, there is no sign that your data has been mined and it is often done automatically by bots that scrape content from lots of users at once.

Location tracking by IP address or GPS

Your location can be valuable to social media companies, their advertising partners, and malicious third parties. 

Even if you do not list your town or city on your public profile, your location can still be tracked. This is because the IP address set by your internet provider is visible to tracking tools and browser cookies, and this is tied to your geographic location.

Furthermore, if you use a mobile app to access the platform, it might also have permission to access ‘location services’, which is your mobile device’s built-in GPS location. 

Malware and viruses

Malware can easily spread on social media through malicious links in posts and private messages. 

Cybercriminals use the lure of funny or shocking videos, pornography, or quizzes to get victims to engage. They also imitate friends, famous people, and brands to connect with people.

Sophisticated malware is often part of a broader phishing attack used to compromise accounts. These accounts are then used to target others.  To enhance cybersecurity measures, it’s crucial to regularly scan for viruses and quickly address any potential threats.

Privacy loopholes

Even if you set your social media profiles to private, there are still some privacy loopholes. For example, just because other users cannot see your activity doesn’t stop the platform itself from sharing some of your data with advertisers.

Facebook might also have your contact info, including phone numbers or email addresses, even if you haven’t linked these yourself. This is because it lets users upload their address book to Facebook, Messenger or Instagram.

You have to request removal manually at:

DMs, cyberbullying, and doxxing

Direct or private messages (e.g., sent straight to you on messenger or Twitter’s inbox) are surprisingly open to abuse.

Anyone, whether you are friends or not, can send you messages on Facebook. At best, it will end up in the message request folder.

If you follow someone on Twitter, they are free to message you at any time.

When diving into the public side of things, there is also an undercurrent of negativity from online trolls and even just grumpy people, that can get you emotionally riled up and is far from healthy.

Fallings out can quickly escalate to targeted bullying and harassment. One of the worst behaviors is known as doxxing, which is when someone finds personal info such as your home or work address and shares it on social media in hope that others target you offline.  

Even if you heavily restrict who you interact with, you can’t foresee what comments, tags or mentions you’ll get from friends or family.  

While those that are savvy about how social media works can take all this in their stride, children, the elderly, and vulnerable people are not always equipped to face harassment or other unwanted interactions.

Hand typing on a laptop keyboard

How to protect your privacy

To combat these privacy issues with social media, you can limit what is publicly accessible and take steps to mask the data gathered behind the scenes. 

Adjust privacy settings – Use the built-in privacy settings to limit who can view your profile info and posts to only those you are friends with or mutually follow.

Social media platforms like Facebook also let you opt out of personalized or targeted adverts.

Don’t overshare – Keep your contact info and town/city off public profiles to prevent data mining, and avoid following corporate brands that you have a personal connection to. E.g., your bank, favorite online store etc.

Clear browser data Delete the site data in your browser settings after every session to prevent tracking cookies from building up reliable information about you.

Alternatively, use Incognito mode when loading social media sites or a special browser like Brave, which automatically blocks advertising tracking.

Use a VPN – This hides your real IP address behind a server in a different location. It also encrypts your internet traffic so it cannot be intercepted by hackers.

Use special privacy tools – A combination of antivirus with real-time monitoring, specialized privacy software, and social media protection tools can help keep you safe and secure. 

Turn off location – If using a mobile turn off your location services or revoke the location permission for social media apps.

Use two-factor authentication – 2FA requires a second form of confirmation before you can log-in, such as an SMS code. This means even if you’ve been hacked or fallen for a phishing scam, your account still cannot be accessed.

Avoid suspicious links – Do not click on suspicious links or attachments, especially when sent by personal message.  Protect individual data by regularly reviewing and adjusting third-party app permissions, auditing friend/follower lists, and monitoring connected devices. Additionally, stay informed about platform policies, use strong passwords, and consistently monitor social media account activity for enhanced online privacy.


Now you have a more solid understanding of what data is collected and the main social media privacy issues, you can better secure your profiles and enjoy the platforms without worrying. 

Before you leave, check out the major e-commerce threats and make sure your online business is running smoothly. Stay safe!