It’s All Public

As technology becomes more invasive, companies and more track users’ lives


Photo Illustration by Braden Dennis

You vent on social media. You realize you went too far, so you delete it. Too late. Screenshots of your post have already started circulating, and now you’ve hurt a friend’s feelings. Nothing online is private, and your posts are available to more than just your friends.
Nixa Public Schools’ Executive Director of Technology David Liss said user data has become one of the most valuable commodities of our time.
“Be diligent with who you give your data to and how much data you give,” Liss said. “It’s a pretty common practice to simply check the box that you’ve read the Terms and Conditions or Privacy Policy of whatever site you’re on, service you’re subscribing to or app you’re purchasing.”
According to Liss, companies will collect and use this data any way they see fit in order to make money.
“The end result is to make money and maximize profit. … Some companies use [or] sell data for money,” Liss said. “Companies also use data to help with product development or enhancement in addition to using data to customize a [user’s] experience while in the app or on the site.”
An identity thief can potentially purchase this data and use it to assume the identities of others, according to Liss.
“If a bad [buyer] can acquire user information, they can steal identities to make purchases and engage in commerce,” Liss said. “They get the products [or] money and the actual person is left with the liability.”
One way companies are able to acquire and sell this information is through terms and conditions, Liss said.
“Those terms and conditions, and privacy policies outline what [companies] can — and likely will — do with your personal information,” Liss said.
People can also unintentionally put themselves at risk by posting too much online, according to School Resource Officer Sean Vorse.
“Some of the most common habits that put people at risk is sharing too much personal information,” Vorse said.
Freshman Aiden Hopkins said that while he uses social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok daily, the most he plans to share is his name. According to Vorse, this is a good practice to maintain, when any post can potentially be used in court.
“Depending on the crime, the internet posts could be used as evidence,” Vorse said. “Take a threat for instance — if I was to post on Snapchat that I was going to punch a certain person after school, and someone saved that Snapchat … that Snapchat post would be entered as evidence in court and used against my case.”
Amber Brantner, business teacher at the NHS says that employers will use these posts, too.
“Sometimes employers, before they hire someone, may look at any of your public profiles to see what it is you’re posting and if that’s something they would want to represent their company,” Brantner said.
While posting, good things can help your case, it is still important to mind what you post, according to Brantner.
“If you’re posting positive things, that’s great,” Brantner said. “But it’s always important to think and [filter it] before posting, because it can come back and haunt you if it puts you in a poor light.”
Brantner said that posting has been an important thing to be mindful of for some time, now.
“I think we’ve seen, especially in the last few years, that the things you post on social media, whether it’s recent or 10 years ago, can influence how people perceive you,” Brantner said. “… It’s just important to realize that you have an image … and you’re marketing yourself.”
Private messages are potentially no better than public posts.
“The only real privacy is not posting at all,” Vorse said. “All it takes is someone to send a direct message or text to someone and that person saves the text or message. The person that saved the message can then send that message to anyone they want.”
Liss urges all social media users to give as little personal information out as possible.
“The less you share online the better. … The more of you that’s ‘out there’ — to include social media — the better profile that can be built on you,” Liss said.
Vorse said that even seemingly benign information can create harmful security risks.
“A lot of people post personal information and pictures on social media but don’t take the time to think about the ways that information can be used against them,” Vorse said. “Take posting photos and names of your pets for an example. The most commonly asked security question is, ‘What is the name of your pet?’ ”
Liss said the potential of a security breach is not worth the risk.
“Don’t assume people have your best interest in mind,” Liss said. “Remember this, for the bad guys out there, fair and care are not in their vocabulary. Data has value, your data has value and they will exploit it any way they can to benefit them.”