Social Media Sharing: A Community Guide

Steward technology experts weigh in on the best ways to approach, monitor children’s social media usage.

How might the algorithms companies use to interpret a person’s online presence be used to determine the advertising they receive, discounts, loan rates, job offers, invitations to join groups, etc.?

Mr. Brannon: Companies monitor our digital footprints because that information is valuable to them. For example, companies like Google, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook allow advertisers to access information about individual users’ internet browsing habits. This can result in seeing targeted ads for products you recently searched on a different site. Certain companies like Instagram sometimes use content uploaded by its users in advertisements targeted to that user’s friends.

This same information can be used to target groups based on shared behaviors or preferences. On the one hand, this allows advertisers to reach their desired audience by filtering down to precisely-chosen segments of the market. On the other hand, this creates the potential for inequality and discrimination. For example, a promotional discount on a product can be sent, perhaps inadvertently, only to members of certain ethnic group to the exclusion of others. Likewise, advertisers may use knowledge about your friends or family to target you. For example, parents might see advertisements for products their children like, or groups of friends traveling together might notice coordinated ads for certain products. Parents of newborns (and their families and friends) may see advertisements for products that change as the child grows.

Moreover, some companies collect and sell information about users’ digital habits to third parties. Many employers subscribe to services that help verify job applicants’ credentials or screen legal and financial histories. These services increasingly factor in digital habits into determining the desirability of job applicants or creditworthiness of loan seekers.

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