Do you find yourself wanting to use social media to stay in touch with loved ones but get lost in all the potential problems? Do you feel confident you understand all the ways to protect yourself from online scams? Have you been victimized or targeted because of your age demographic?

There’s no doubt about the extent of possibilities with online ads.

Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with family and friends, and even meet and get to know like-minded peers. But as with most things in life, there are some downsides to everything. Online privacy has become a very important topic.

Recently, Mark Zuckerberg – the creator and CEO of Facebook – had to face U.S. Senate over allegations surrounding online data usage and privacy. This sparked a lot of conversations around personal information and social media, specifically how it can be sold to advertisers.

Facebook and similar social media sites are free for personal use, but they cost a lot of money to maintain. It only makes sense that they need income to stay afloat, and even thrive.

Advertising on Social Media

Just like in reality, when we’re out and about in our daily lives, we’re faced with advertising on social media. Online just seems much more targeted. And it is.

Highways have billboards, subways have posters, social media feeds have click-through ads, depending on your profile details. I remember that the first time I realized the online advertising world was indeed using data to target me, I felt vulnerable.

I had just “checked in” on Facebook in a foreign country, and the next time I logged in, the ads were all geared towards tourist destinations in that country. Facebook knew where I was and because of how I set up my profile, it knew my age, my marital status and personal interests.

On a positive note, I got some great ideas for how to spend my vacation that I never would have thought about before. I didn’t click any ads, but I did use google to search for those and similar services and had a great time singing karaoke in Japan.

On the down side, someone was profiting from my information, even if I didn’t click on their ad. My vacation budget was influenced by online social media advertisers. I was – and am – a statistic in a universe of algorithms.

How Can You Avoid Becoming a Victim?

With online advertising being so hyper fast and specific, it’s easy for any demographic to be vulnerable, not just seniors.

However, since seniors can be less tech savvy than other age groups, and are sometimes less likely to protect themselves online, advertisers can quickly take advantage of them. It’s important to understand the basics and to review and update your preferences often.

Even if you don’t use credit cards, internet banking or other transactional services online, following basic guidelines to online privacy is key to staying on top of the money-hungry marketers and being able to use social media for its benefits.

How Can You Stay on Top of the Ever-Changing Trends?

If you have time, and are one of the rare few who read the disclaimers when signing up for services online, kudos to you. It’s common practice to simply scroll down and click “Agree” or “Accept.”

However, important details are documented in those lengthy agreements. Just remember that those terms of use often change.

So, while you can try to understand them and stay on top of all the details, it’s also more important to read through a social media website’s Privacy Policy and Security disclaimer once you’ve signed up.

As you create a profile, going through your settings and reading through all the options is crucial to proactive behaviour. And the more you post online, the more important it is to understand what you’ve agreed to.

Going back to the Settings of your profile and reviewing them is crucial. It will keep you not only somewhat protected from unknowingly sharing your data with advertisers but will help keep your knowledge on the important topic up-to-date.

Policies Should Be Easy to Understand and Find

Facebook, Twitter and other popular sites not only make it easy to find the profile settings, they encourage users to review and update them. Occasionally, when I log into LinkedIn or Facebook, I’m faced with a reminder message about reviewing and updating my usage settings.

That’s a positive business practice from these sites that I’ve grown to appreciate. They even explain where to go on the site to encourage me as a user to do it.

Otherwise it’s so easy to click the X and procrastinate. If you’re unsure of how to maintain a well-protected profile, err on the side of caution and select the more conservative settings around data sharing and profile settings. Nothing bad will come about by not seeing ads.

Younger family members may have different uses for online sharing. If you have someone you trust that is more tech savvy, be sure to ask them to show you how to manage your preferences in addition to setting them up initially.

If you find yourself having a difficult time locating such information once you’ve signed up, reconsider using the site.

What have you done to alleviate your concerns about online security. Do you know how to edit your Settings and protect your information on social media? Please share your concerns and questions in the comments below.

Jennifer SternJennifer Stern is a self-described “writer in geek’s clothing.” Drawing upon years of communications experience in the tech industry, she started a personal blog to address common concerns about technology and the internet, specifically for Canadian seniors. She believes seniors can benefit from embracing technology and the convenience it offers. Read her blog at www.digitalseniors.ca

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