Social media is everywhere, and chances are you have at least one account that you check regularly. In fact, according to Global Web Index, the average internet user clocked in at seven social media accounts, which is up from four accounts per user back in 2013. I personally only use two sites daily, Facebook and Reddit.
An internet search returns more than 60 popular social media sites, with a much higher number of more obscure or less used social networking platforms. Every single one of these sites is free for the end user. Yet sites like Facebook, who announced $4.7B in profit in 2017, are definitely in it for the money. But where does this money come from, and where does the user come into the equation?
Without the end user, you, social media could not exist. On the surface sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter offer the user something useful to their lives—social interactions with other people regardless of distance.
But what is the hidden cost that these ‘free’ sites use to make money? Data. We supply them with every bit of personal data about ourselves that we may not otherwise share. In the age of the internet, data has become increasingly valuable. Fortunes have been made with the personal data willingly supplied by users of social media sites.
Advertising companies use social media sites, like Pinterest, to target specifically tailored ads to its users, often without their knowledge. If a company wants more traffic to a certain page on its website, they will often resort to paying a social media platform like Pinterest to divert more traffic their way. This works because the social media platform of choice already knows exactly what its users like to look at, as well as trends in the market. All of this useful data can be used by anyone willing to pay to have their post promoted. For pennies on the dollar per click through, a post can be promoted and stream additional targeted traffic to itself, this according to Pinterest ad services.
much is your information worth? The answer may surprise you. The average user’s information is worth a very measly $0.0005 for information such as age, gender and where you live, according to Financial Times. Other variables can make your personal data worth more, for example if you’re shopping for a house or have a baby on the way.
Shopping information is the big seller, targeted ads work very well at coupling a potential customer and a product that they are likely to buy. Billions of daily users worldwide, while not worth much individually, are worth billions of dollars annually. If you’re curious as to how much your personal data is worth, there are online calculators available for entertainment purposes.
I personally use Facebook, like many, to keep up with family and friends. However I limit the amount of information I post and also do not use Facebook to sign in to any other site. This helps to keep as much information private as possible. The information gathered via social media will only be used for advertising purposes which doesn’t bother me in the least. I feel the services provided by social media sites outweighs the invasion of privacy at this time. The most important thing to remember is anything posted, even in private is still being saved to use as advertising against the user.
The next time you log in to Facebook, remember, everything you say, click on or share is used to send specific ads to your screen. This is the price of free. The only way to keep your information private is to not be involved with social media in the first place. However, with the relevance of social media in today’s world it is neigh impossible to outright ignore.