Private social networks are gaining popularity, and they’re not slowing down. Your own social networking habits might even reflect this trend. Do you find yourself sending friends private messages more often than you share a Facebook status update? Do you text your family about your new favorite restaurant rather than write a Yelp review about your experience? You’re not alone. The top messaging apps “together have more users than the big networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.” Users now prefer to engage in more personal, direct online interactions, and are migrating to private platforms that feel safe.
But just how private are these conversations we have in messaging apps? On some platforms, any member of a group chat (not just the chat creator) can add someone new to the conversation, allowing the added person to see all past messages and participate going forward. Or, perhaps you’ve noticed this scenario: You share a link in a private message with a friend for a sweater you are considering buying. While you wait for your friend to respond with their opinion, you go back to scroll on your news feed and – what’s this? There is an ad for that exact sweater you were eyeing tucked right in the border of your browser window. Just because only two names appear in your chat window doesn’t mean that a third party isn’t listening in during your “private” conversations.
If we value our privacy and are seeking more private online interactions (which the data shows we are), we need to do research on which private social media platforms are actually private. Technology has become clever enough to reach your most personal digital materials, and it’s up to you to be informed and choose a social platform that you can trust. Does the network work with third party advertisers? Do they sell user’s data? Are messages encrypted? By asking the right questions, you can learn which social networks claim to have your best interest at heart – and which ones actually do.