A survey by Consumer Reports highlights many people are not using the privacy controls available on social networks and are sharing information that can expose them to identity theft and other crimes - including their addresses and when they are going to be home. Here are some tips on how to better protect yourself when you use Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.
With calls for tighter privacy controls on the Web getting louder
and louder, new research shows many users are still forgoing privacy
controls and exposing themselves to risk on social networks.
According to a survey of 2,000 American households by Consumer
Reports, 52 percent of adults using sites such as Facebook and
MySpace engage in risky behavior, posting information that can be used against them to commit cyber-crime
This information runs the gamut from full birth dates (38 percent) to
home addresses and the details of whether or not the person is home,
eight percent and three percent, respectively.
"Many people use social networking sites to share personal information
photos with their friends quickly and easily," said Jeff Fox,
technology editor for Consumer Reports, in a statement. "However there
are serious risks involved, which can be lessened by using privacy
controls offered by the sites."
As one of the most popular social networking sites
the Web, Facebook has been at the center of the privacy debate, and has
garnered criticism in the past several months regarding changes to its
controls and its decisions to share user information with third-party
Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray said Facebook's approach to privacy
needs to continue to be more transparent in order to find middle-ground between its business needs and the concerns being voiced
by politicians the public.
"Everyone seems to have their own ideas about privacy, but
ultimately this is less about privacy than it is control," Ray said.
"Consumers can and will legally give up their right to privacy in
exchange for free access to the social sites and services they've come
to love. The issue isn't that people expect privacy
can someone who posts where they are and what they think at every
moment of the day-but that they expect to control who accesses their
data and under what circumstances."
But for all the criticism Facebook has taken, the survey found many
users are not taking full advantage of the controls in place. For
example, while 73 percent only share Facebook content with -friends',
just 42 percent of adult users reported customizing settings to control
who can see information. Eighteen percent customize settings to control
who can find their page through a search.
Facebook users were generally more likely to post potentially risky
information than users of other social networks. While 38 percent of
social network users overall posted their full birth date, 42 percent
of Facebook users did so. Facebook users were also more likely to post
information about work (17 percent versus 16 percent) and
their personal cell phone numbers (seven percent versus six
percent) than others.
In addition, Facebook users were slightly less likely to post their
home address (seven percent versus eight percent), and equally as
likely to indicate when they were away from home (four percent).
just 27 percent said they check out pages of new followers they don't
know personally, and 24 percent said they block new -followers' they
don't know. Some 34 percent of users have chosen to only make their
tweets available to followers.
The good news is that many of those who experienced identity theft
and knew where their information was stolen don't believe it was due to
their online activity. Just 20 percent said their information was taken
from Web-related activity.