Facebook Users by the Millions Ignore Privacy Controls: Consumer Reports

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 site€™s privacy tools to limit how much information apps are allowed to see.

"Facebook really ischanging 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 trends€”but 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 protection€”up 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 passwords "alarming."

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 grandmother€”or supervisor€”to 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."