Social Networks are a Privacy Risk even for Non Users

Don’t use social networks due to privacy concerns? They probably still have information about you possibly even shadow accounts. Recent research has shown that it’s possible to discern information from existing users about non users and would be quite easy for large social networks to do so.

Social Networks are a Privacy Risk even for Non Users

The research was able to predict with 60% accuracy the sexual orientation of a non user based on data from Friendster, arguably the first social network. 60% is quite high, a random guess only had a 5% success rate and the method could easily be adapted to identify other factors such as age, relationship status, occupation and political affiliation.

What's the Problem?

The ability to discern and collect such data is troubling for a number of reasons, firstly it would be illegal to do so in some countries such as Germany. Information about individuals sexual orientation, political alignment and other such information could put people at risk if the data fell into the wrong hands. Finally the data is an invasion of privacy for everyone. It removes consent as non users have no say in the collection or use of their data, the non user never agrees to the terms of service.

While Facebook has denied using shadow accounts to track non users. They openly admit to accessing peoples contacts to identify non users and send them marketing emails, a practice banned in Germany. Facebook also tracks users across the internet. It would be a very easy step for Facebook to create shadow accounts and of course other big names such as Google, Twitter etc. could also be collecting extensive information on non users.

What can you do?

The difficulty with shadow accounts is the source of information is often friends, family and other contacts. In an ideal world individuals would be more responsible with the data they share and the law would ensure that explicit consent is required before sensitive information can be collected about someone.

Simple steps you can take yourself to avoid tracking are deleting cookies, Facebook ability to track it’s user across the web is based on their cookies there are many browser add ons available to disable that cookies that allow that. Also hide your IP address, encrypt your data and use services that don’t track. Zenmate encrypts yours browser traffic and hides your IP address and we don't track users. We also operate under very strict German data protection laws.

What do you do to avoid tracking?