Consumer Reports Survey: 52 Percent of Social Network Users Post Risky Information

May 04, 2010, 06:00 ET from Consumer Reports

Annual State of the Net Survey Found Around $4.5 Billion Lost to Viruses, Spyware and Phishing; Tests of Security Software Reveal that Free Options Offer Ample Protection

YONKERS, N.Y., May 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The number of online U.S. households using social networks such as Facebook and MySpace has nearly doubled in the past year expanding online opportunities for criminals.   According to Consumer Reports latest State of the Net survey, in the past year, 52 percent of adult social network users have posted personal information such their full birth date which can increase their risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime. The survey results, tips to protect users' information online and Ratings of security software are featured in the June issue of Consumer Reports and on

"Many people use social networking sites to share personal information and photos with their friends quickly and easily," says Jeff Fox, Technology Editor for Consumer Reports.  "However there are serious risks involved which can be lessened by using privacy controls offered by the sites."

The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,000 online households in January.  Consumer Reports found that 9 percent of social network users experienced some form of abuse within the past year, such as malware infections, scams, identity theft or harassment.  Users who post information such as a full birth date – month, date, and year – (38 percent), photos of children (21 percent), children's names (13 percent), home street address (8 percent) and details when away from home (3 percent) are especially vulnerable to becoming victims of abuse. And cybercrime can be costly – Consumer Reports estimates that Americans have lost $4.5 billion over the past two years and including replacing 2.1 million computers compromised by malware.

To coincide with the release of the State of Net report, Consumer Reports will convene a panel discussion about social networks and consumer behavior on Tuesday May 4th in New York City.  Panelists include Jeff Fox, Consumer Reports, Meenesha Methal, Federal Trade Commission, Lee Tein, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Adam Ostrow, Mashable.  The event will be broadcast live on Consumer Reports Facebook page

Seven Things to Stop Doing on Facebook NOW!

Social networks are a fast and easy way to share information and photos with friends.  Incidents of crime can be lessened and possibly avoided by changing the following habits.

  1. Using a weak password.  Avoid simple names or words that can be found in a dictionary, even with numbers tacked on the end.  Instead, mix upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.  A password should have at least eight characters.  One good technique is to insert numbers or symbols in the middle of the word.
  2. Listing a full birth date.  Listing a full birth date – month, day and year – makes a user an easy  target for identity thieves, who can use it to obtain more personal information and potentially gain access to bank and credit card accounts.  Choose to show only the month and day or no birthday at all.
  3. Overlooking useful privacy controls.  Facebook users can limit access for almost everything that is posted on a profile from photos to family information.  Consider leaving out contact info, such as phone number and address.
  4. Posting a child's name in a caption.  Don't use a child's name in photo tags or captions.  If someone else does, delete it by clicking Remove Tag.  If a child isn't on Facebook and someone includes his or her name in a caption, ask that person to remove the name.
  5. Mentioning being away from home. Three percent of Facebook users surveyed said they had posted this information on their page. Doing so is like putting a "no one's home" sign on the door.  Be vague about the dates of any vacations.
  6. Being found by a search engine.  To help prevent strangers from accessing a profile, go to the Search section of Facebook's privacy controls and select Only Friends for Facebook search results.  Be sure the box for Public Search isn't checked.
  7. Permitting youngsters to use Facebook unsupervised.  Facebook limits its members to ages 13 and older, but children younger than that do use it.  If there's a young child or teenager in the household who uses Facebook, an adult in the same household should become one of their online friends and use their email as the contact for the account in order to receive notification and monitor activity.  

Security Software: Free Programs are Fine for Most People

Consumer Reports State  of  the  Net  survey  found  that  40  percent  of  online U.S. households had at least one virus infection in the past two years so it's important for consumers to protect their computers with security software.  Although almost all new PCs come with a free trial version of a subscription security suite from a company such as Symantec or McAfee, Consumer Reports latest tests confirm that consumers can skip paying for these programs and still be safe online.  

Avira AntiVir Personal 9 ( offers ample protection for most – free of charge – and was among the best anti-malware programs, but it persistently tries to sell you its untested $27 pay version, which adds some features.  Microsoft Security Essentials ( is also free, but less obtrusive.  Although it scored lower overall than Avira, Microsoft's program was a little better at identifying Web sites that host malware.

Consumers willing to pay for special protection or extra features such as a spam filter and a browser toolbar should consider Symantec Norton Internet Security 2010, $70, ( or BitDefender Internet Security 2010, $50, ( Both security suits include firewalls that are a little better than those built into recent versions of Windows, as well as fine anti-spam protection.  Symantec's suite is one of the best products tested for detecting Web sites that host malware and for speed in scanning a hard drive for threats.  BitDefender costs less and can work with non-Microsoft e-mail programs such as Thunderbird.

Additional Stats from Consumer Reports State of the Net Survey

Below are the percentages of survey respondents who posted specific personal information on social networks and of those who post the same specific information on Facebook.



First and last name



Photos of myself



Email address



Birth date with year*



Birth date without year



Photos of children*



Names of family, friends, or associates






Children's names*



Home street address*



Cell phone number



Home phone number



Information indicating  when home or away*



*Users who posted risky information



Protecting Privacy on Facebook (Adult Facebook Users)

  • 73% only shared their Facebook content with friends
  • 42% customized settings to control who can see their information
  • 22% customized what personal information can be accessed by apps
  • 18% customized settings to control who can find my page through a search
  • 11% only shared content with friends, and friends of friends
  • 10% altered some personally identifiable information to protect their identity

Facebook Applications

  • 39% of Facebook users surveyed reported that they use apps
  • 10% of Facebook users were confident that they are secure
  • 27% believed that some apps are more secure than others
  • 28% believed that all apps pose some security threats
  • 35% hadn't given much thought to the security of apps

Protecting Privacy on Twitter

  • 34% of Twitter users surveyed said they only make their tweets available to followers
  • 27% said they check out pages of new followers that they don't know personally
  • 24% said they block all new followers that they don't know personally
  • 12% said they research new followers on Google or other search engine
  • 5%   asked others about new followers they didn't know personally

Victims of Identity Theft

  • 67% of those surveyed who experienced identity theft were at least somewhat confident that they knew how their personal information was obtained; 33% did not know

Among those at least somewhat confident they knew the source of the identity theft:

  • 20% reported their information was taken from Web-related activity
  • 11% reported that their personal information was obtained when they made an online purchase; 5% cited an online financial transaction
  • 1% reported that their information was taken from a social networking site

JUNE 2010

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SOURCE Consumer Reports