The right to privacy has long been a balancing act for popular social networks.

As sites whose entire selling point is based on sharing personal information for others to interact with, companies like Facebook and Twitter have a vested interest in getting us to put as much as possible out into the world.

Conversely, they know that we typically don’t want everyone to see everything, which requires any social site hoping to build trust with its users to add privacy settings and visibility filters to help them control what content goes where. Sometimes they succeed, but more often than not they fail and cause an uproar in the process.

More recently, however, a new generation of social networks has risen up. Sites like Whisper, Secret, the heavily hyped Ello and the multi-billion dollar business that is Snapchat have all moved to win market share by selling themselves on temporary messaging, and sometimes anonymity. This is a stark contrast to the timeline of your life that Facebook is trying to build, or the fully public, easily archived tweet history to which Twitter allows us access.

But both disposable messaging and so-called “anonymous apps” are a false dawn.

The stories of bullying and trolling across these platforms are just the tip of the iceberg, with the deeper concern being that users actually buy into the promise that their data is protected . When this happens they create a false sense of security, which assumes that they have access to some secret-sauce that other major organizations, including the U.S. government, do not. As the biggest of the bunch, Snapchat has already shown in many ways that this is not the case.

Privacy Please sign

Privacy: Not something we can achieve by asking nicely. | Image Credit: Josh Hallett

At a time when multi-national companies and big name brands seem to get hacked every week, with the personal and financial data of millions of valued customers heading out the door, why would anyone assume that some bootstrapped startup social network protects its data any better? And these big retailers have a strong desire to keep that data safe. Any leaks damage the reputation of the brand, leading to loss of confidence and reduced sales.

A new social network has very little to lose from a data breach, but everything to gain when it promises the world to users, whether that means not selling your data to advertisers like Ello, or protecting private messages like Snapchat and Whisper. Social networks need to build their user base and encourage users to share around their core concept, whether that’s permanent public photos and status updates like Facebook, or private pictures that “disappear.”

This is a classic case of better the devil you know. While more established social networks can be accused of a certain level of disregard when it comes to user privacy, at least we know about it and have our guard up. Even on the new breed of social networks, the only way to guarantee privacy is to use the best filter we have, our own brain. If there’s a fear that something you post could be damaging, it doesn’t need to be posted.

Any belief that the social network you use can protect your privacy is like parking your car unlocked in a lot and hoping the operators will stop it being stolen. Valuables are left at your own risk, whether we’re talking about the real world or the digital one.