Social media apps are some of the most frequently opened applications by smartphone users, globally. In fact, billions of people download TikTok and various Meta apps each year. These apps are often used to fill free time, and many people appreciate them for finding community and making and keeping friends. 

A survey conducted among the Concord Academy student body in January with 131 responses shows that the most used social media app in the school is Instagram, with Snapchat a close second and TikTok not far behind. Around 60 percent of the respondents reported using Meta apps (Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp) and Snapchat for more than an hour a day while only 38 percent reported using TikTok for more than an hour a day. 

Evidently, CA students, like most high schoolers nationwide, spend a lot of time on social media daily. But, with every post liked and every video watched, the social media platforms are collecting their data and using this information in ways which they may or may not agree with. 

Before creating an account on any of these platforms, the user agrees to the app’s terms of service. Unfortunately, most people do not read what they are signing up for and instead just check the box and move on. What they do not necessarily realize is that buried within the legal jargon, they are agreeing to the harvesting and sale of their data.

In apps that are free to download and free to use, the user is the product. Their information—age, gender, region, shopping behavior, likes, and dislikes—is invaluable to companies looking to advertise on these platforms. As the user consumes content, the apps carefully collect and store each of these data points for future sale. Although many people know that their data is being collected for sale, most users are not privy to whom it is being sold. For advertisers, being able to target their products to specific audiences most likely to buy and being able to measure the effectiveness of their ads in real-time is incredibly valuable. Still, parties may instead use this data with more malicious intent. For example, in 2016, consulting firm Cambridge Analytica built a quiz that collected information from every person who took it as well as from their friends. They then sold that data. This sort of incident could happen again: such as in identity fraud or the development of Artificial Intelligence. Once information goes from the user to the company, its storage and sale are quite opaque.

All of this is not to say that no one should use social media—it is, as is the internet, a tool and one that can be quite fun and entertaining. Instead, people need to be aware that the apps they use are collecting their information and doing with it what they please. It is important to be careful with not only what one posts online but also what one consumes.