Does Social Media Privacy Really Exist?

Social media – a great tool for people to connect with others, as well as for businesses to promote their products and services. However, in recent years, the issue of user and data privacy on social media platforms has come into question. Is your social media account or page really private and confidential, keeping your personal data secure? Does social media privacy really exist?

What Is Social Media Privacy?

Social media privacy encompasses protecting a user’s sensitive information, posts, messages, and other content that they might want to be kept private. For example, a user may want to protect their personal identifiable information (PII) including their email address, full name, and date of birth.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Any unauthorized viewing or access to private information belonging to a social media user is considered an invasion of privacy. This information can be retrieved unauthorized using a variety of different methods including:

  • Social media sites obtaining and recording the information without the knowledge and permission of the user.
  • Hackers gaining access to a user’s account through links and malware.
  • Social networks having a data breach which could expose millions of users and their information.
  • The information being sold to third-party companies after being obtained with or without permission.

Social Media Privacy Incidents Over the Years

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

This incident kickstarted the concern of data privacy by social media and internet users in general. In 2018, Facebook admitted to mishandling information that was obtained by the firm Cambridge Analytica. The firm harvested the data of about 87 million Facebook users via a personality quiz. Once connected, information from a user’s friends could be retrieved as well. The data they collected included pages the user liked, characteristics, where they lived, and other pertinent information that would help with political targeting.

However, the mistake overall was likely on Facebook’s end. Back in 2015, Facebook deleted the quiz and asked Cambridge Analytica to delete the information they harvested. Clearly, this wasn’t the case as the raw data files were found to be online, as reported by The New York Times. This incident led to Facebook having to pay a $5 billion fine to the Federal Trade Commission and Mark Zuckerberg having to speak in front of Congress.

Instagram 2019 Data Breach

To start, Facebook owns Instagram. So, the 2019 data breach added to the company’s continuing list of security and privacy issues. The personal data of about 49 million users was compromised as the result of an unprotected Amazon Web Services server being used by the company. The information that was compromised included profile pictures, location information, email address, phone number, and the number of followers a user had. This breach affected about 1 in every 20 Instagram users, most of them being influencers, public figures, and celebrities.

TikTok and Children’s Data Privacy

TikTok did not learn from its predecessors when it came to collecting the data of children. A group of parents claimed that ByteDance, the company who owned TikTok, collected the information of children. Doing so violates COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) which prevents social media companies from collecting data belonging to those younger than 13-years-old without the permission of a parent or guardian.

The parents claimed that the platform collected data belonging to all users from December 2015 to October 2016. Even though TikTok didn’t confirm or deny the claims, they did settle with the parents and paid them $1.1 million. These suspicions were confirmed a few years later when TikTok faced a fine of $5.7 million by the FTC who claimed that the platform previously knew kids were using it and failed to have protocols in place to gain parental consent.

What Has Been Done to Protect Users’ Privacy?

Social Media Data and Privacy Transparency

With the increased concern over data collection and user privacy, social media platforms are doing what they can to be transparent regarding data collection and giving control back to the user.


All of Facebook’s information pertaining to the company, community standards, and safety measures can be viewed on this page. They’ve altered user settings to ensure that the users have control over their content and who sees it including posts, your friends’ list, location, profile, and more. They’ve also provided security tools such as two-factor authentication, login alerts, and trusted contacts to help prevent an account from being accessed without authorization. Many Instagram settings can be managed from one’s Facebook account as well.


Similar to Facebook, Twitter has created a transparency hub detailing information about the company and its privacy policies. They answer common questions users ask pertaining to  information found in their Private information policy document. On a user’s account, users have controls over a variety of privacy settings including managing their Twitter activity and permissions, data sharing, tracking off-Twitter activities, and two-factor authentication for account security.


In Snapchat’s Privacy Center, they cover the topics of – Our Privacy Principles, Your Privacy Explained, Privacy by Product, Privacy Policy, How We Use Your Information, and Transparency Report. To protect your data on the platform, Snapchat allows users to download their data, revoke permission for data collection by Snapchat, and set their advertising preferences.


To address user concern pertaining to data collection, they have their privacy policy available to the public. They address information they collect, how they use your information, how they share your information, user options, and more. The company provides users with options in regards to overseeing their data, including the ability to control third-party advertising preferences, limit ad tracking, opt-out of marketing emails, and more.

So, does social media privacy really exist? No. These platforms may provide tools to keep your data and content private and account secure, but there are no guarantees. With every passing day, new advancements, hacking methods, and tracking technologies are being created to obtain people’s data online without permission. And until these arise, all social media platforms can do is wait until something happens and adjust and improve accordingly.