2014

Despite Efforts To Protect Privacy, Users Increase Amount of Personal Information Available Online, Carnegie Mellon Study Finds First Long-term Study of Facebook Users Finds Network Environment Influencing Privacy Outcomes

PITTSBURGH, March 5, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- A seven-year Carnegie Mellon University study of Facebook has found evidence of three contrasting trends in the amount of information Facebook users disclosed over time: decreasing public disclosures; abrupt changes in disclosure due to interface and policy changes; and increasing private disclosures.

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The 2005-2011 study, which appears in The Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality and can be found at http://repository.cmu.edu/jpc/vol4/iss2/2/, is the first longitudinal study to document how privacy and disclosure evolve on social network sites over an extended period of time. Researchers found that from 2005-2009, Facebook users displayed more privacy-seeking behavior, progressively decreasing the amount of personal data shared with the public.  

This trend abruptly reversed between 2009 and 2010, when changes implemented by Facebook, such as modifications to its user interface and default settings, led to a significant increase in the public sharing of various types of personal information. The study also found that, over time, the amount and scope of personal information that Facebook users revealed to their Facebook "friends" actually increased. As a result, users ended up increasing their personal disclosures to other entities on the network, sometimes unknowingly, including to "silent listeners" such as Facebook itself, third-party apps and advertisers.

"These findings highlight the tension between privacy choices as expressions of individual subjective preferences, and the role of the network environment in shaping those choices," said CMU Associate Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy Alessandro Acquisti, who co-authored the study with CMU researchers Ralph Gross and Fred Stutzman. "While people try to take control of their personal information, the network keeps changing, affecting their decisions and changing their privacy outcomes."

Titled "Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook," the study profiles data from a panel of 5,076 Facebook users and is the first study to use data from Facebook's early days in 2005.

"These findings illustrate the challenges social network users face when trying to manage online privacy, the power of social media providers to affect their disclosure and privacy behavior, and the potential limits of notice and consent mechanisms in addressing consumers' on-line privacy concerns," Stutzman said.

"Access to settings which help individuals determine which profile data other users get to see may increase members' feeling of control, but perceptions of control over personal data and the misdirection of users' attention have been linked to increases in disclosures of sensitive information to strangers," Gross said.

About Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon (www.cmu.edu) is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 12,000 students in the university's seven schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to-faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. A global university, Carnegie Mellon's main campus in the United States is in Pittsburgh, Pa. It has campuses in California's Silicon Valley and Qatar, and programs in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and Mexico. The university is in the midst of "Inspire Innovation: The Campaign for Carnegie Mellon University," which aims to build its endowment, support faculty, students and innovative research, and enhance the physical campus with equipment and facility improvements.

SOURCE Carnegie Mellon University



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