Social media apps draw questions about privacy settings

Written by Kajal Dave, Copy Editor

Use of social media, for some people, comes with fears of what kind of information is being collected by various companies. Recently, a new Snapchat update stirred up a flurry of controversy, which the company quickly sought to put to rest.

Users of Snapchat were worried that the pictures they sent, “Snaps,” were being saved on Snapchat servers. The Terms of Service state that “(users) grant Snapchat a world-wide, perpetual, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, create derivative works from, publicly perform, broadcast, distribute, syndicate, promote, exhibit, and publicly display that content in any form and in any and all media or distribution methods.” So what does that mean? Snapchat can store and use certain pictures that are posted. The company is not, however, allowed to claim any private Snaps. The materials they store are videos and photos in the Live Story or Replay features.

This policy is not too different from those of other social media websites. When you use certain apps on your phone, information about your activities is being collected and certain content you post becomes usable by the company. People usually get freaked out by Terms of Service and Privacy Policies based on what others say. The general public does not take the time to read these extensive legal documents, so they often don’t understand exactly what they are giving up everyday.

Snapchat and various other apps collect certain information about their users. Their activities, contact information and web browsing history are all fair game. Sometimes these companies collect information and leave it unencrypted. For example, Starbucks had account information stored in plain text. There was no encryption, which made it easier for people to access passwords and emails. The problem has been resolved, but the same situation can occur in any app. There’s really no real way of knowing if the information that the app collects and transmits is secure.

What a company collects is often sold to advertisers. Your location, which some apps don’t require but simply collect to sell, says a lot about your activities. From this, advertisers can create a profile about you and present advertisements that appeal to your web browsing and app using habits. Imagine walking into a store, having a computer scan your phone as identification, and having screens all change to personalized advertisements. The technology exists. For some people, this is more of a convenience than a worry. But again, the danger of all of these companies having information on individuals is if the information gets into the wrong hands. If you are interested in exactly what your apps are collecting and how they are using it, PrivacyGrade is a service that has assessed many apps.

There are ways of keeping things private. If you have an iPhone, you can go to in Settings > Privacy > Advertising > “Reset Advertising Identifier” to essentially reset. For Androids, you can turn off personalized ads from your Google Account. The same goes for Windows phones. It’s like becoming a new person in the eyes of advertisers, but of course they can just start tracking you once more. You can also use the “Limit Ad Tracking” feature on the iPhone. Apple is pretty good about protecting the identity of its customers, and that’s why it offers these services. Google, on the other hand, is notorious for gathering information.

The information that our phones collect isn’t always the most sensitive. It’s not a concern for some people, but it’s always important to be aware of what our apps monitor and share.