Some privacy please! Our information is being used to sell us things

As the popularity of social media continues to grow, the focus on privacy protection. Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

What do you do when you want to get to know someone? You check their Facebook page, of course. What are they studying? Where do they work? What bands do they like? This kind of information that was once only disclosed through conversation is now available to all. If you think your friends — well, your Facebook friends — are the only ones accessing this information, think again.

As the popularity of social media continues to grow, the focus on privacy protection. Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

Facebook has been the target of many privacy complaints in the past. Most recently, Bell Canada announced their new policy that will collect data on customers’ television, web and phone patterns to create targeted ads. Which entails having ads specific to you and your interests. This “relevant marketing” policy will come into effect on Nov. 16.  According to Bell Canada’s privacy policy on their website, Bell will be able to access all customers’ network usage information, which includes web pages visited, search terms, location, app and device feature usage, television viewing, and calling patterns.

Facebook also has targeted ads, and uses all the information you provide: your location, your age, your job, and your interests. The social media site tracks all of your “likes” as well, and you can end up seeing ads for something you personally liked or even for something your friend liked.

Journalism professor and social media expert, Lisa Lynch, says people aren’t that aware of privacy settings and with the constant updating of social media, it’s hard to stay on top of everything.

There is not much use in getting worked up over the fact that Facebook — and now Bell — is using the information available on our profiles to their advantage. It is the price we pay for engaging in free social media that has us interacting in the open.

“We are not their customers,” says Lynch. “We’re the product, what they are selling.”

The best way to avoid becoming the product is by getting informed on how better to protect the information we put online, update our privacy settings and maybe even be more selective with the kind of information we share.

However, Bell Canada has made it possible to opt out of their access to your network usage. You can choose to receive “relevant, targeted ads” or “unfiltered, random ads,” the latter being the opt-out option.

Lynch believes targeted ads are the future of advertising, and gives the example of Hulu, an American online television-streaming website. On Hulu, they have an “Ad Tailor” feature, which means they ask whether or not an ad is relevant to you. For ad customization, they also have a feature called “Ad Swap,” where you can choose which ads you see.

“It is the next evolution in user choice and control,” specifies Hulu’s support page.

In terms of ad blocks, there is an online service called Social Fixer, which allows you to customize your Facebook settings and remove annoyances. There used to be a setting to hide advertisements, however this feature has recently been disabled due to legal threats from Facebook.

More companies are becoming proactive in shutting down websites that try to block their ads. “Advertising is getting much smarter everywhere,” Lynch explains. “The expectation of being able to get around these things will lower [and] we will gradually accept them.”

It is easy to forget that part of our lives are lived online. Sharing who we are and what we do has become a part of how we identify ourselves and how we socialize. Companies using personal information for targeted ads may seem like nothing to worry about however it is important that we become more conscious of our online activity, what we share and who has access to it.



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