A Consumer Reports study finds that 28 percent of the Facebook users it polled share all or almost all of their Facebook posts with more than just their "friends."
Millions of Facebook users may be getting too open with their personal
information on the Web's biggest social network.
According to Consumer Reports, an estimated 13 million Facebook users in the
United States either do not use or are not aware of the site's privacy
controls. In addition, 28 percent of the people the magazine polled said they
share either all or almost all of their Facebook posts with people beyond their
"friends." In addition, only 37 percent of users say they have used
the sites privacy tools to limit how much information apps are allowed to see.
"Facebook really is
changing the way the world socially communicates
and has become a
successful service in part by leveraging copious amounts of personal data that
can be spread far wider than its users might realize," said Jeff Fox,
Consumer Reports Technology Editor, in a statement.
"Our investigation revealed some fascinating, and some disquieting
trendsbut ones always worth knowing for consumers who wish to keep their
personal data under better control."
The figures were extrapolated based on a sample of 2,002 adults with an
Internet connection, including 1,340 who were active on Facebook. According to
the magazine, an estimated 4.8 million people have posted where they plan to go
on a certain day, which the group argued is a potential tip-off to burglars. In
addition, Consumer Reports projected 4.7 million have "liked" a
Facebook page about health conditions or treatments. But that was hardly the
only personal information Facebook users were sharing online.
An estimated 2.6 million discussed their recreational consumption of alcohol
on their Facebook wall, while 4.6 million are estimated to have discussed their
love life. Some 20.4 million included their birthday and year in their profile.
"Overall, people are being encouraged to share their private lives
online," noted Roel Schouwenberg, senior researcher with Kaspersky Lab.
"It should not come as a surprise many people actually do. It's a social
network. There's no such thing as real privacy."
Interestingly, some Facebook users chose to err on the side of privacy.
Twenty-five percent of those polled admitted that they falsified certain
details in their profile for protectionup from just 10 percent two years ago.
The Consumer Reports survey follows a well-publicized controversy a few
weeks ago when the media reported stories of businesses asking job applicants
for access to their Facebook accounts. The reports spawned outcries from
privacy advocates and led to calls for legislation in several states to ban the
practice. It also generated criticism from Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin
Egan, who called the idea of businesses asking for applicants' Facebook
Though Facebook has bolstered privacy controls on multiple occasions during the
past few years, the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement with
Facebook in November that mandates the site take steps to ensure their privacy
policies are clear to users.
"Don't put anything online that you wouldn't want your grandmotheror supervisorto
see," Schouwenberg advised. "You should treat anything posted on a
social network as something which is world-viewable. In a social network
there's no such thing as private data."