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Does Social Media Data Mining Violate Our Privacy?

Picture of a computer screen with a pie chart to the left, a bar chart on the top right and a line chart on the bottom right to signify social media data mining. This is sat on a dark blue background.

The ethics of social media regularly hits the headlines, especially relating to social media data mining. 

Most recently, the latest iOS update hit headlines by allowing iPhone users to easily decline tracking and advertising cookies, which has some advertisers concerned about their remarketing efforts. 

Many social media businesses form detailed personas about users to optimise their marketing goals, but is this right? 

Does social media data mining violate our privacy, or is it simply a modern form of advertising and surveying, which gives the user a more tailored experience? Let’s find out. 

What is social media data mining?

Data mining is the act of gathering and measuring information with the hope of using it in the future.

For instance, social media data mining includes collecting data about your habits, likes and dislikes and browsing history to form a detailed persona about you and your close connections (friends/family). Above all, this helps social media platforms predict how you may react in the future. 

Though this data is often used for advertising, it can be used negatively, such as with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. 

What do social media companies know about me?

If you’d like to know what data social media companies have collected about you, you’re in luck! 

UK businesses legally have to respond to data protection requests within one month and provide all data within three months. 

To combat 1,000s of requests, most social media companies have sections on their app or website dedicated to your data.

For example, you can view or request Facebook, Twitter and Instagram data in the settings. 

If you can’t find this page, you should contact their data protection officer, whose email address should be in their privacy policy. 

Is there a way to find out what data a social media app tracks before downloading it?

Apple requires all apps using their App Store to state what data they collect. 

This includes basic facts like names, addresses and telephone numbers, rising to private information such as sexual orientation, health records and contents of text messages. Some apps even track your heart rate! 

Businesses use this information to give you a better experience (not showing you alcohol adverts if you’ve signed up for Dry January) and to personalise your ads (if you’ve texted a friend about your pregnancy, expect to see ads for prams and nappies). 

You can easily read what your favourite apps track about you by visiting the App Store. Here’s Instagram’s App Store page. 

What is legitimate interest (GDPR)?

Legitimate interest was introduced under the General Data Protection Act (GDPR) so businesses could use your data for security reasons (checking you weren’t a robot etc.) and to provide you with an essential service. 

As social media businesses need somewhere to send you password resets, this makes the collection of email addresses essential. It makes sense that you can’t send a password reset email if you don’t have an email address to send it to! 

However, some businesses can use legitimate interest to provide you with marketing or personalisation, even without your express consent. As providing a personalised user experience is essential, this is legal. 

Can I do anything as a business to make my social media data mining more ethical?

Any data you collect about users should be legally and ethically declared before you collect it. 

Likewise, you should declare that you plan to share data with social media brands (for retargeting/lookalike audiences etc.). 

To clarify, this includes any tracking code you have added to your website (Facebook Pixel/Twitter Pixel/LinkedIn Insight Tag). 

You can also teach your followers about how to restrict the information social media companies collect about them. Contact us if you’d like more information about this. 

Looking for more information?

If you need any help with developing an ethical social media strategy, Tailor-Made Media is here to help. We specialise in developing social media success stories for businesses across the world, including VÖOST, Melitta Professional Coffee Solutions and Yorwaste. 

If you’d like to learn more, get in touch with our friendly team today.