Privacy in Private Facebook Groups

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Public Service Announcement: This one is about privacy in private Facebook groups or closed Facebook groups, or for that matter other groups on other social media.

Many people join “Closed” or “Private” groups on Facebook and other social networks. While many of them are perfectly fine, it is important to know that none of these groups are truly private. While you might have a little more privacy in private Facebook groups than in public groups, nothing on social media is 100% completely private.

Just as you would anywhere else online, be a little cautious about what you post and what personal information you share, whether the group is public or private. Sadly, some of these groups specifically target women and others who tend to more openly share personal details and encourage them to share their “dirty laundry” in a “safe” place to vent or seek support and advice.

However, not all of these groups are what they seem on the surface. We’ll go into more detail on that in a moment. First I’d like to share a little more about how modern digital advertising really works. I’ve been running a digital marketing agency for almost 14 years now, and have also had a strong interest in data security since the nineties, so perhaps my knowledge and experience can help you avoid some of the bad people out there.

Of course we all know by now that Facebook makes their money by selling advertising, and they have so much data on all their users that advertisers can be extremely specific with who sees their ads, because they can narrow down the target audience thanks to all that information we have freely shared on their platform over the years. This can be both good and bad – ideally, you’d see more ads for things you’d genuinely want to see, for things you’d want to purchase, right around the time when you’d want to purchase them. So in this case, giving up some privacy can make your online life a little easier. However, some of these ads can come across as being a bit intrusive, so advertisers have to walk a thin line to make sure their ads don’t come across as being creepy or stalkerish. This can also result in you seeing fewer ads that truly aren’t relevant for you, such as an ad for a hip replacement doctor being shown to a healthy 20-something.

Retargeting is another form of advertising where ads are shown specifically to an audience of people who have visited the advertiser’s website. A cookie is placed on their device that tells the ad server to show more ads from that site to people who have already visited. Again, a pretty useful thing, much of the time, though it could spoil a surprise like an engagement when the significant other suddenly sees a bunch more ads for diamond rings on your computer, especially if both members of a couple share the same computer.

So now on to the dark side of some private groups: Many closed and private groups are designed to look like groups of your peers who may be experiencing some of the same problems you’re experiencing, whether it’s a medical condition, someone newly starting a career, or someone who has moved to a new country and is having trouble adapting to their new culture. Some groups and their admins are there to genuinely help, which is excellent, as they may have already been in your shoes and can share useful, timely advice.

Others, however, act supportive and caring, and encourage members to share more details via seemingly innocuous questions and statements that seem supporting. But some of them are actually being used to gather dirt on their members and help the admins identify who might be weak or vulnerable, and give them exactly the information they need to take advantage of you, whether in the group, elsewhere or even offline. If you’re venting about your relationship, your job, your family, crises of faith, or any number of other sensitive topics, there is such thing as sharing too much, particularly with strangers or people you only “know” in the group. Some people may be essentially mining those groups for information they could use against you when you’re most vulnerable and least expecting it. So the perception of privacy in private Facebook groups can be a distraction for ulterior motives.

Just bear in mind that, like anywhere else online, no place is truly “safe.” Just because we’ve already given up most of our privacy for free, doesn’t mean that we should give it all away. If you’re in an unfamiliar place, you keep your guard up a little. Do the same thing online. Complete privacy in private Facebook groups just doesn’t exist.

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