Social Media Is Tracking You On 50% Of All Websites You Visit: Here’s What To Do About It

Social media companies collect loads of data throughout our browsing. This information aids many companies' marketing efforts, but also subjects you to risks.

Privacy in the digital era has become an antique concept of the past. With tagged photos, online timestamps, event RSVPs, geolocation check-ins, and more, these sites learn a lot about the people using social networking sites. 

Any data available about a particular user, whether it’s their political beliefs, college alma mater, birthday, or relationship status, it’s all part of their social media data profile. 

Nowadays, accessing social networking sites requires you to submit crucial social media data, a sacrifice most people won’t mind making.

Consequently, the data will be available for mining, and companies can use it to understand specific users and whole user segments better.  

How Data Collection Works On Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites allow users to create accounts where they provide their demographic, preference, and behavioral data about themselves.

This information is usually available on your posts, likes, and the things you accept or search for using your devices. 

Companies generate computer-based personalities using the data collected from your device.

The data is crucial for big data scientists and companies which use it to create personas that can establish your age, gender, preferences, and much more. 

Essentially, these companies generate computer-based personalities using the data collected from your device. As such, they might know more about you than your friends or family members do. 

How Much of Your Data Is On Social Media Sites?

Social networking sites collect tons of user data. Most people don’t even know how much of their information giant corporations save and track.

According to a recent study, Instagram leads in tapping your data. This popular photo-sharing social network shares up to 79% of your data with advertisers and third parties.

This includes your current location, browsing history, and contacts. If you’ve ever used the app for shopping, your financial information could be out there.

Following closely is Facebook. The social network shares up to 57% of your social media data with third-party agencies.

It’s also among the first entities to leverage facial recognition, but it has since stepped back on this feature due to concerns regarding misuse and potential surveillance risks.

What Information Do Social Networking Sites Collect?

Apart from tracking your posts, shares, and likes, social networking platforms also collect a long list of user data, including but not limited to the following:

Behavioral Social Media Data

This data highlights the patterns you might follow during your journey to perform an action prompted by advertisers.

The actions include visiting a webpage, purchasing, or sharing a post. Some of the most crucial behavioral data points on social networks include:

  • Transactional data, including purchases, subscriptions, average order value, loyalty program details, cart abandonment information, average customer lifetime value, etc.
  • Social network usage, including task completion, repeated actions, feature duration and usage, the device used, etc.
  • Qualitative data such as time on the app or site, heatmaps (scroll, clicks, and mouse movement), and user attention

Social Media Engagement Data

Social networking sites collect and measure your engagement data to track how you interact with their platform, advertiser sites, and third parties.

The most common examples of engagement data metrics that social media companies use include the following:

Mobile app and website interactions – App stickiness, site visits, user flow, most viewed pages, traffic sources, etc. 

  • Platform engagement – Post shares, post replies, post likes, native video views, and much more. 
  • Email engagement – Email forwards, bounce rate, click-through rate, open rate, etc. 
  • Customer service data – Feedback, query or complaint details, number of tickets, etc. 
  • Paid ad engagement – Click-through rate, ad conversions, impressions, cost per click, etc. 

Personal Social Media Data

This refers to data regarding a person’s identity that could threaten their identity. Most social media data points are inaccessible to marketers to protect the security and identity of users.

However, companies can access less-revealing data points such as gender, age, and birthdays. Other details in this category include:

  • Your name (first, last, or full)
  • Location, including your country, ZIP code, exact physical address, or state
  • Email address
  • Login details (usernames and passwords)
  • Social security number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Credit or debit card details
  • Passport number
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Contact details
  • Ethnicity and race
  • Employment history

Attitudinal Social Media Data

This refers to data concerning your emotions and feelings. Social networking platforms you’re your attitudinal data to measure how you perceive certain social media content, messages, and other information.

It is subjective, hence is usually compiled using interviews, polls, surveys, user complaints, reviews, user feedback, etc.

  • Common examples of attitudinal social media data include:
  • User preferences
  • Motivations and challenges
  • Social network desirability
  • User sentiments
  • User satisfaction
  • Purchase preferences or criteria

Social Media Preference Data

Preference data covers how a social media user identifies or supports some ideas, activities, content, etc. Common examples of users’ preference information include:

  • Religious beliefs
  • Political affiliation
  • Food preferences
  • Sports teams
  • TV show and movie genres
  • Favorite activities

Your cake company can use all these details collected by your social media platform to create targeted ads for Game of Thrones fans offering Game of Thrones-themed cakes.

And by doing this, the baking company can become a more relevant and relatable alternative to other similar companies that leverage a more general approach to their social network campaigns.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself and My Data?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to leverage advanced JavaScript- and cookie-dependent websites and social networks while ensuring you’re not tracked.

Protect yourself while on social media platforms

The best way to substantially protect yourself from the tracking mechanisms is to follow these steps:

Cookie policy settings – Choose a favorable cookie policy for your web browser. The best examples include manually approving all cookies or “only keep cookies when my browser is running.”

Avoid some cookies – You can also disable Flash Cookies and any other “supercookie.”

Using browser extensions – Extensions like NoScript and RequestPolicy can help you control when third-party websites can run code in your web browser or include content in your social network pages. These extensions are highly effective, but they’re relatively difficult to use. You have to whitelist most sites that run on JavaScript before they work effectively.

Opt out – The highly effective Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out plug-in automatically removes you from numerous third-party trackers that force you to accept a cookie before opting out.

Still, remember that not every third party offers opt-outs, and some of them may have a different interpretation. For some, opting out could mean “stop displaying targeted ads” instead of “stop tracking my online behavior.”

Seek browser privacy – There’s nothing wrong with using the Tor browser to conceal your IP address, and other browser attributes that prevent social networking platforms and websites from tracking you.

You Can Hide Your Social Media Identity 

Here’s the kicker: Remaining truly anonymous online is virtually impossible. That said, hiding some of your identifying data is still possible.

Begin by masking your device details, location, and online activity using a VPN (a virtual private network).

Stay hidden from the data miners

The tool encrypts your data and traffic and disguises your browser metadata, IP address, and personal details like passwords, banking data, or internet searches.

However, the protection is limited when browsing social networking sites like Instagram and Facebook since they can still view your posts, likes, the accounts you interact with and follow, and every bit of financial and personal information you share on the platforms.

It’s also possible to hide your social media identity using a fake profile with a false online name (an alias or pseudonym), a fake email address, and a generic profile pic.

At the moment, many people on social media already protect their privacy using fake accounts, although some use this method to achieve unscrupulous goals.

The Bottom Line

The social networking platforms you frequent know more about you than you think. They collect crucial data based on browsing habits and preferences and use this information to serve personalized ads.

This, in turn, raises tons of money for the giant corporations yet subjects you to impersonation and identity theft risks.

Fortunately, the above guidelines can help you beat the data-collecting bots to secure your social media data.

Moreover, hiding your social media identity can go a long way in ensuring that none of your genuine data lands in the wrong hands.