By Brenda Curtis, Ph.D.
Social media platforms continue to improve and refine their privacy settings as the demand for advanced user protections increases. Although enabling catered privacy settings to online profiles allows users to indicate who they would like share personal information with, it does not necessarily protect them from the platforms – i.e. websites and apps – themselves. Since social media accounts provide users with a sense of control over personal data, users assume that their information is safe. However, no matter what settings or privacy protections are applied to personal profiles, users do not generally have control over the online platform itself. What this means is the website or app being used usually shares information from accounts with third parties like advertising agencies or other databases. This data sharing is widespread throughout the industry, but it is not generally known by the public. This is partly because the disclosure of this sharing is done in the social media platform’s “Terms and Conditions” Which are often skimmed over or ignored.
Aside from social media websites, there are several other websites and apps that access your personal information via this information sharing to create a single database for everyone in the country. This is generally called data aggregation. One such site that has been in the news recently is FamilyTreeNow. FamilyTreeNow is explicitly a genealogy site, and compiles information from various legal online sources to create a database full of personal information for genealogical research. This site pairs information from public records such as police records and court documents with the information collected from social media and address databases to create a sometimes way too revealing profile.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.