I am a member of a commonly used social networking site like almost everybody else these days. I was apprehensive about joining in the first place back when these sites really started to hit off, but so many of my friends where using it to communicate and organise meet ups etc. that I decided to give in. So I made a profile, added some reasonable profile pics and some basic information and I was well away. Over the first few years I began to use the site a lot, especially when I was living alone and in a new job where I had few good friends. It was a great way to stay in touch with old friends and check other people were still alive and well, without having to ask them or even contact them. Myself and some good friends also started using the ability to label snaps from horrendous nights out as a humorous way of dealing with the depression of a hang over the next morning. Nothing better than being reminded of something utterly stupid you or a friend did the night before!
Since I got married and settled down things have changed. I find I'm not really interested in going out and then posting photos of drunken disasters anymore, I'm much more enjoy posting snaps from camping holidays with my husband or pictures of my garden. OK, perhaps that's boring, but hey it passes a bit of time. Anyway... I've come to notice that the site often has irrelevant adverts down the site of the page; makeup, credit cards, football etc.'. I understand that the sites use demographics to target adverts at people, for example: female= makeup ad. married= credit cards ad. Unfortunately I'm not your typical woman and these makeup ads are not relevant so I often click to remove them and explain why in the resulting multiple choice box, however the same sort of ads keep popping up. I was at a loss as to understand why these sites do not feel that learning what their users want is important... don't they want better targeted advertising? If not why do they even allow you to remove said ads?Worse still... I have read and heard about several married men getting ads for dating websites appearing on their pages, despite the site having the information about their relationship status. They click to say the ad offends them, but the next day there is another similar one there. Are these companies just asking the site to show the ad to ALL men? If so they are just going to annoy people. Not every man wants to 'hook up with hot local singles'.
I have also noticed how the site seems to know things about me which I have not shared with them. For example, when I was pregnant with my daughter, it showed me ads for baby products, despite the fact that I had been keeping this a secret from my friends and hadn't mentioned anywhere on the networking site! I decided to look into the subject of ads and also information sharing on these sites... the results were a bit disturbing.
Some ads are suggested due to demographic. OK I know that already. Some ads are suggested due to friends interests... again I know that. However what I found disturbing is the fact that the other ads are a result of the site accessing and sharing information from your emails and website cookies etc. as far as I can ascertain. Don't believe it? Try searching for a specific product on the web a few times in the same browser you use for a networking site, visit a few pages, then go onto your social networking page and check the ads. Chances are there will now be an ad for said product. So... how is it OK for a website to access information from your web usage for any reason? On further reading it seems to be even more complicated and accessed via apps, games etc. you might use on the site. Apparently some apps include statements in their terms and conditions to cover them accessing your information etc, so the only way to stop this is to go into your privacy settings and remove the apps and change all your privacy settings.
That brings me on to my second problem. I change my settings to private and make sure to un-click all the right boxes etc, but every now and then when I check, all the privacy on apps, etc. has been reverted back to a default 'unprivate' setting. UG! Why should I have to regularly check to see if the site has decided to revert my settings to allow access to my private information? Surely respecting users privacy should be a default setting?
So, there you have it. I have come to understand that social networking sites have no respect for privacy or the interests of their users. As long as it's in their terms and conditions then they are covered and no longer responsible. It seems the only way to avoid the problems of privacy and offensive ads is not to use any sites of this type. I am seriously considering deleting my profiles from all such sites unless things change. I urge any readers to check your privacy, app settings etc to prevent any privacy issues.