Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why data privacy is a priority for social media

By Michael Collett, co-founder and CEO of Kin

As social media has grown over the last 15 years, our consumption and use of it has developed exponentially. The way we use social platforms has changed with the mediums relaying our whole lives to thousands of others every day. When we’re forced apart from our families, social media is critical in how the world communicates, with 72% of us saying our consumption of social media has increased during the pandemic.

The volume of content we share online also, of course, comes with its pitfalls, especially when organisations aren’t doing enough to protect our data. Our overexposed and overshared details has put not only ourselves – but also others who play a huge part in our lives, for example our children – at greater risk when it comes to identity fraud. A digital footprint is one of the easiest things to make, and one of the most difficult things to undo. You don’t even need a social media presence for it to form. A digital footprint is a trail of data created when we use the internet; from online banking and websites we visit, to emails we send and information we submit to online services. We must learn, and educate young people, to protect our and themselves online.

Privacy is becoming an ever increasing concern for consumers, but this needs to be balanced with the huge demand for online socialising and connections. Even when pandemic restrictions are lifted, this industry is only going to continue to grow. I believe we will see a shift in social network markets that provides a hybrid of privacy and connectivity, ushering the future of privacy conscious and private social networks.

The era of the ‘sharent’

If you’re a parent you’ll likely have a general awareness of digital safety and be quick to restrict children and loved ones from joining too early or accessing things they shouldn’t be. However, most are not shy about posting content of their children themselves. In fact research shows that 93  per cent of children in the US have an online presence by their second birthday, some even pop up on Facebook before they leave the hospital. The growing phenomenon of being a ‘sharent’ has led to years of overrepresenting a variety of details about children online; private and personal information such as names, ages and appearance are widely available and this puts them at risk of being targeted by fraudsters in later life. Research from Barclay’s has revealed that due to oversharing on social media by 2030 the “sharenting” that already frequently takes place, is predicted to account for two thirds of identity fraud online

Fraud isn’t the only hurdle  children and their parents face. As they’re underage they can’t physically consent to their images or identity being shared online which is again a huge problem. It’s a large infringement on their privacy –  a digital footprint that has already been created and is irreversible. 

Prioritising privacy

In recent months and years we’ve seen documentaries and films highlight how unsecure social media is as it populates with all our private information. This then fuelled by the well publicised privacy blunders means we don’t fall short of hearing across the media where consumers data is exploited. We depend on social media for contact and to feel close to our loved ones but this is only made difficult when there is a lack of trust in how our data is being protected. 

As consumers of social media, we’re increasingly aware of how much data we’re actually giving away and this, as we’ve recently seen with Whatsapp, is only driving us further from the apps and technology we’ve grown to love. It’s from emerging trends of breaches, that privacy and data protection have become a common dinner time conversation topic and therefore a priority for most of us. We want to know that not only are our conversations private, but also that our precious content – and ultimately memories – are being stored securely, not just for now but also for years to come. 

Whilst users may not have previously been aware in earlier instances – they are now. Companies are selling our private information and social listening that collects data on how we use our networks, is becoming an increasing concern. Of course, these techniques are essential for a lot of the work done in advertising enabling consumers to enjoy personalised recommendations. However the constant barrage of intrusion is now at every turn, and consumers are looking for somewhere to ‘escape’ the noise.

Looking forward

It is of course within our nature, always has been and will be, to share things we are proud of, especially with family and friends. Our special moments are what make us so while our privacy is important to us, so is connecting online when we can’t in person. Especially during the pandemic, technology and social media have been a lifeline for us to remain present, providing comfort for us when travel hasn’t been possible and family get-togethers were cancelled. It’s now about managing the way we are online in the right way, privacy needs to be a top priority so that we can continue to use these spaces with security and confidence.  

As individuals we enjoy being able to connect but there’s now a call for social connection platforms that aren’t going to take our data, or share information with countless third party companies. In what Harvard Business Review called ‘The Era of Antisocial Social Media’, young people in particular are coming away from traditional social media in search of platforms that create ‘micro-communities’ giving them the more intimate side they crave. Using platforms specifically designed for families and friends avoids the noise from influencers, ads and marketing. People are able to come together in a safe space and share the things that matter most to them, with those who matter most.

There are many things we don’t already get from social media which are important to us, so making new platforms that bring those to consumers can aid the industry. Nobody knows how long they have with their families but having that emotional connection through memorabilia and stories brings us together. Features like this are to be equally appreciated when we’re physically forced apart, through pandemics, distance or loss.

It’s important that social media reflects the change society is asking for. Creating platforms that protect individuals’ privacy and won’t leave them vulnerable to fraud or bombarded with advertisements. It’s likely that although we’ll continue to use social media to keep in touch with connections we’ve made through the years we’ll also look to platforms where we’re truly in control of our content and who sees it. The move isn’t about replacing the profiles we’ve built up over the years, but more about having a separate space away from them to connect without disruption and with peace of mind.