Three researchers from Columbia University have completed a study determining Facebook users’ perceptions of their privacy settings. By tracking and interviewing 65 students aged 18 to 25, they found that every single one of the participants were sharing personal information in ways they hadn’t intended when setting up their privacy settings. While 95% of participants were initially confident that their settings protected the information they wanted to protect, participants eventually found that information they wanted to hide was public (93.8%), and information they wanted to share was hidden (84%). Also in the study, users’ most important reasons for protecting their privacy online was to protect their online reputation (49%), to safeguard against identity theft and other economic risks (38%), and to protect against general security threats (12%).
The researchers’ conclusions (full study can be found here) were that the way Facebook deals with privacy doesn’t necessarily reflect how people view their privacy in the real world, meaning that Facebook organizes settings by type of information, but people really care about information in the context of relationships and who has access to that content. In other words, current privacy settings make it possible to share only what we want to the people we want.
While the Columbia researchers determined that Facebook privacy settings are currently “fundamentally flawed and cannot be fixed,” they offered the solution of adding privacy tools that allow users to hide categories of information from certain people, rather than types of information from entire groups (such as friends, friends of friends, networks, or strangers).
Right now, parents and kids alike can take their own precautions to ensure the safest possible privacy settings on Facebook, and any other social networking profiles they may have. Important tips include:
- Have a solid understanding of privacy settings, and consequently make settings as secure and private as possible
- Only friend people you actually know in real life and who would therefore probably already have knowledge of any information posted about you online
- And the simplest solution – keep any photos, posts, or other information offline that you wouldn’t be okay with EVERYONE seeing
How confident do you feel that you and your kids’ online settings are as secure as possible?