Social Media : An Invasion of Privacy

Reading time : 12 minutes

Have you ever noticed that whatever items you searched for and wished to buy few hours ago, their ads start popping out on the social media apps or while surfing the net shockingly ? What do you think, is that a coincidence each time? The answer to this question is no, not a single time it happens to be a coincidence. That’s called Social Media Marketing and Networking done by various companies to reach new customers by indirectly invading our privacy.

As we go back in times, Social media was made for social networking only. It is that kind of interactive digitally-mediated platform which allows the user to create, share or exchange the ideas, information, career interests and other forms of social activities via virtual communities. It is considered to be the best tool of socialising across the globe. Be you an individual, a brand, a society, a company or any organisation, social media allows you to be connected to anyone in every way you want virtually, sitting at any corner of the world. We cannot deny the fact that with the rapid advancements of social media, our life has become so much better, convenient and interesting all at the same time. And today, [1]50.64% of total population in the world are social media users. From connecting an individual to their family member, to connecting an artist to their audience, from connecting a company to their customers, to connecting our influencers to their followers, it has a long list of advantages, we are taking as a user of social media. It surely gives the perfect platform to showcase your talent. Moreover, nowadays, it can be seen how it can be used as a really strong weapon when it comes to raising social issues and breaking social taboos. It not only connects us to our relatives but also gives an opportunity to a business enterprise to become a brand through their marketing methods and algorithms.

But, how can something be so beneficial without any flaws? How can social media provides us everything we need as a user at the right moment without asking for a price? Well, I would say, we all are paying the price every day to these networks while being the user and utilising their services. And that’s our own Privacy. Undoubtedly, social media, too has many disadvantages. The more attractive it looks, the more addictive it becomes for any user. It leads to number of crimes like cyberbullying, hacking, fraud and scams. Adding to this, invasion of privacy is one of its major demerit. Violation of right to privacy is such an issue that internet users basically consent to whenever they come online. But as far as we know, [2]Right to Privacy is a very crucial part of fundamental rights which is protected under right to life and personal liberty, Article 21 of part III of Indian Constitution. Moreover, Article 12 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with anyone’s privacy, family, home or correspondence nor to attack upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to protection of the law against such interference or attacks”. Then how come are we consenting to social media to invade our privacy?

The main role here is played by the terms and conditions we agree to in the process of becoming a user of the application. And its biggest example is none other than, Facebook app. The terms and conditions of this social media application state that anything original users post on their social media (for example personal videos and photos) are rightfully Facebook’s property and they can do what they want with it such as create photo calendars that they can sell and make profits out of them and the original creators of the photos i.e., the users have no claim, no right over the profits made whatsoever. Not only Facebook, there are multiple social media apps using the same method to collect our private information and sell them in order to make profits out of it.

This year, even [3]WhatsApp tried to do the same thing. They changed the terms and conditions and tried to make its users agree to it in order to peep in their chats and collect the information, photos, videos, or anything which we send and receive while using WhatsApp. But, unfortunately, many users decided not to agree to those terms and conditions and conveniently shifted to other apps like Telegram to protect their right to privacy from getting violated. Sooner, WhatsApp out of competitive nature released a statement that the company has delayed the last date for users to accept the new privacy policy defining terms and conditions of the app. Not only this, the company also put up a WhatsApp status to help people understand their new policy. WhatsApp updated its status on the app which was visible to all users and it said “Committed to user Privacy”. The company tried to gain the faith of the users by stating that it is still committed to maintain privacy of its users. In a thread of messages, this Facebook-owned company also said, ‘WhatsApp can’t read or listen to your personal conversation as it is end-to-end encrypted’, ‘WhatsApp can’t see your shared location to anyone’, and ‘WhatsApp doesn’t share any of your contacts with Facebook app’.

There are many more social media apps which are invading our privacy for social media marketing, but how do they do this? First of all, they try to keep an eye on your social media behavior to know your likes, dislikes, habits, needs and wants. This is called [4]Data scrapping. It involves tracking users’ activities online and harvesting their personal data and conversations from social media, job websites and online forums. Usually, research companies are those harvesters, who later on, sell the collected data to other advertising companies. Furthermore, these companies use these details to design targeted ad campaigns for their products. While they might argue that people are knowingly sharing personal details on the social media apps or in their chats and thus, anyone can use it for free, let me tell you that data harvesters don’t ask for the users’ consent. And this raises the issue of ethics as well as an online privacy. One strong case for some serious violation of online privacy took place in May 2011. Nielsen Co., a media-research company, was caught data scrapping every message of an online Forum Patients LikeMe’s, where people share about their emotional problems, while thinking that this platform or online Forum is a safe, private environment and their information is being kept private. As the case was dealt, a lot of people felt their right to privacy was violated.

Not just once, several times cases have been reported against Facebook apps stating that they are leaking and identifying information about those who are using them, to advertising firms and Internet tracking companies. And not surprisingly, users have no clue about it. Here’s how they are leaking your information. During the process of app’s, you are asked to accept certain terms and conditions and once you click “Allow”, the application is receiving an “Access token”. After which the Facebook app is leaking these access tokens to different advertisers and very conveniently granting them access to our personal-profile data such as chat logs and photos. They are even keeping an eye on what sort of content or product are we liking on the app. However, no disclaimer, no notification is showed announcing you while your data is being transferred to third parties. Thus, your online privacy and safety have been put at risk. FarmVille and Family Tree are two examples which have been found to use, leak and sell such private information for their own benefits.

Adding to the list, [5]online social tracking is also one of the tools for leaking information and invading the privacy. We all use the buttons of “Like”, “Tweet”, “+1”, and other buttons while using our social media account and to share content with our friends. But these social media widgets/buttons are also effective tracking tools for all social media websites. They work with small files named cookies stored on a computer that allows tracking the user across different online sites that social media websites place in browsers when you create an account or log in, and together they allow all the social media websites to recognize you on any site that uses these widgets/buttons. Thus, your likes, dislikes and online shopping behavior can be easily tracked, and your internet privacy can be rudely invaded. Not only this, things even get worse. Other social websites allow companies to place within ads, cookies and beacons, the pieces of software that can easily track you and gather all the data and information about what you are doing on a webpage. Point to be noted here is these tracking tools are widely used online but mostly on websites which are used by kids and teens, which raises a huge concern for privacy of a child while surfing online. Snazzyspace.com is a great example of a website used by teens, which keeps track through such online cookies.

Even the simplest search for a product on Google is being tracked by these social websites, social media apps and advertising companies. It’s best example is how your few hours ago searched product starts displaying on the feed of your social media app such as Instagram. One might wonder that how they know our interest so vividly. The violation of right to privacy continues by these apps while in the case law [6]Justice KS Puttaswamy and Anr vs Union of India and Ors, Supreme court ordered that we have a fundamental right to privacy to say that the petition must be dismissed as an affront to our basic constitutional freedom. The thing is technology is not that easy and law is complicated which makes such cases of invasion of privacy tough to get sort.

No doubt that the advancements and updates of technology, social media applications, online shopping sites have made our life much easier than we could think of. Now, noone will deny to be dependent on technology for all our important activities of life which make us survive the day swiftly. It has brought all our people so closer to us, through calls, chats, video calls, it has given an accessible platform to people who have some talent in them but lacks opportunity, it has made companies dependent on them for their growth and success. After doing all this for us, on the other hand, it has affected our privacy in such a way that now, no information related to us mentioned anywhere on any app is safe. Even the companies have become reliant on our information to make their customer base through promotion and advertisements.

As it is said that you have to pay a price for everything because nothing comes for free, the final question is, ‘are you ready to sacrifice your privacy to smoothly enjoy the perks and benefits of this world made of technology advancements?’.


[1] Social Media Usage and Growth Statistics available at : https://backlinko.com/social-media-users (last visited on February 5th, 2021)

[2] Right to Privacy under Article 21 available at : http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1630/Right-To-Privacy-Under-Article-21-and-the-Related-Conflicts.html (last visited on February 5th, 2021)

[3] Committed to User Privacy : WhatsApp puts the status available at : https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/technology/committed-to-user-privacy-whatsapp-puts-up-status-update-after-delaying-privacy-policy/2173208/ (last visited on February 6th, 2021)

[4] Privacy violations available at : https://www.bullguard.com/bullguard-security-center/internet-security/social-media-dangers/privacy-violations-in-social-media (last visited on February 7th, 2021)

[5] Privacy violations available at :. https://www.bullguard.com/bullguard-security-center/internet-security/social-media-dangers/privacy-violations-in-social-media (last visited on February 7th, 2021)

[6] Protect Right to Privacy available at :. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-edit-page/protect-right-to-privacy-petition-to-make-social-media-traceable-strips-the-privacy-right-of-all-meaning/ (last visited on February 9th, 2021)

Author: Himangi, Amity Law School, Noida

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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