Social Media is Tracking You. Do You Care?


Companies’ advertising tracking policies are changing, but many Williston students do not mind the change in their privacy.

Last year Apple announced a shift in their customers’ privacy, which consisted in switching the old third-party tracking system – which was letting third party companies to control the users’ data – to a new first-party one, which leaves to their customer the choice of whether being tracked or not.

This is causing the entire advertising and marketing industry to adapt and change their tracking process, leaving the customer with a little bit more freedom and awareness of what is being tracked and how.

Accordingly to CMS Wire, there are three categories in which data can be broken into: ‘data used to track the user’, consisting of data gathered from apps/websites for the purpose of targeted advertising; ‘data linked to you’, which contains all the personal information used to create an “advertising profile” of the user; and finally there is the ‘data not linked to you’, data which cannot be tracked back to the user or has any direct relation to them.

Every time we create an account on an app or website, the app provider gathers information from our personal data, such as the time you spend visiting the page, the numbers of clicks, any content you read or create, for example, and collects it to share it with other companies to sponsor advertising or marketing campaigns, always within the terms and condition you previously agreed to (in some cases by just accepting the cookies).

Andrew Shelffo, Chief Information Officer at Williston, described the data potential that companies have in their hands once their terms and conditions are approved, and stressed the importance of reading the fine print to fully understand the way our data are being used by the app provider.

“Most people who download apps and the create accounts don’t read the terms and conditions that apply when they create an account,” Shelffo said. “Usually buried in those terms and conditions is a lot of language about what the company will do with your data, which includes the personal information you used to sign up for the app and any content you create or read while using the app.”

Shelffo made a practical example with the well-known social media platform TikTok.

“The creators of TikTok know your name, your age, your location, where you go with your phone, whose videos you watch, who watches your videos, and what other apps you have on your phone,” Shelffo said. “Most of these companies use the data to sell ads. Some of these companies will collect the data and then sell datasets to other companies. You won’t know where your data ends up.”

Gianluca Lanzilli, junior from Guatemala City, told The Willistonian he believes data tracking for advertising purposes a helpful, profitable and time-saving way of conducting business in the metaverse.

“Nowadays the internet is a constant in our lives,” Gianluca said, “so why don’t make the most out of it? They know what we want, and they help both us and businesses.”

Gianluca said data tracking “makes us ‘impulse buy’, therefore making it more profitable for them but also simpler and faster for us.”

Selena Negron ’22, addressed the targeted advertising that social media enforce through sharing/trading data with other companies.

“I personally find targeted advertising really cool and useful when I’m on the internet/social media,” she said. “You get ads for things you are generally interested in so you don’t waste time searching for it. I think it’s cool they can do that because it helps a lot of businesses out, especially small ones.”

Benning Johnson, senior class from Quechee, VT, said he finds tracking technology invasive.

“I feel like I’m being watched every second of my day,” he said. “I either look directly at the website or refuse to accept the cookies; but you have to accept the cookies, otherwise you can’t look at the website. It’s kind of they have to take your data, but I wish they didn’t because I don’t need them to.”