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Updated August 31, 2016

Facebook “likes” and Google “+1’s” are being used to generate advertisements. When you +1 something on G+, Google may be using your preferences to personalize paid ads and content. Your application for credit could be declined not on the basis of your own finances or credit history, but on the basis of aggregate data, says The New York Times.

“Facebook has Transformed from a Public Space to a Behavioral Laboratory.”

Facebook (and other social networks) have only gotten better at identifying behavioral patterns in order to determine how and what to advertise to specific people. According to USA Today, not only are your searches fodder for advertisers to better understand your patterns and your demographic, but also your social “footprints” can show the restaurants and establishments you frequent and who you frequent them with.

The combined power of search and social media to reveal the most minute details of a person’s life gives advertisers a powerful insight into how to target their audiences. And while the advertisers won’t necessarily see your name or address, they’ll have access to a rather comprehensive profile about your life. And for a lot of people, that’s enough of a privacy breach to be concerning.

Social Media is No Longer Just Your Public Photos and Posts

Facebook owns What’s App, which is a messaging service many people use in place of text messaging. This means that your data is susceptible to the same privacy rules as what you put on Facebook – even when you’re privately messaging a friend or family member. Snapchat, despite your photos disappearing from the app after 24 hours, saves all of your photos in its system and (according to its Terms & Conditions) can sell them to anyone they deem appropriate.

These are just a couple of examples of how social media platforms can tap into your personal data and learn about you as a person, which can allow advertisers to target you more specifically than ever before.

How to Protect Your Online Privacy

We were shocked to find out how much our social profiles were worth to mega data collectors like Facebook and Google using a new Chrome and Firefox extension we found called Privacyfix.

Install the extension to find out just how private your profiles are, and what companies are tracking you. Besides how interesting this is, you can also, as the name suggest, “fix” these holes by removing your personal data and limit ad tracking. I found out that Google was making more than $900 on my data per year from ads. Backupify claims the average Gmail account is worth $3588.85.

PrivacyFix lists all the websites currently in possession of your data and tells you how they are using it. “Even though laws allow people to challenge false information in credit reports, there are no laws that require data aggregators to reveal what they know about you,” warns Lori Andrews, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law. Changes are a lot greater that sites like G+ are using all that data to make our experience as personal as possible and less likely it is used for nefarious purposes (or downright annoying ads). However all users should understand what their data is used for and be an active participant in their online security.

Other apps, like Ghostery, can block certain trackers from reading your cookies and knowing your web history so that you can’t be remarketed to.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the real meat behind what you’re agreeing to when you sign up for a social network, and know how to protect yourself and your personal data.

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