Facebook: protecting your privacy

Are you sharing more than you realise?
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We outline what you need to know to know maintaining your privacy on Facebook.

Facebook is used by more than one billion people worldwide every month. People have taken to Facebook because it makes connecting with others so easy. Its popularity is all about sharing: comments, likes and dislikes, links to websites, articles and videos, personal information, your whereabouts and activities. 

The downside to all this sharing, however, is that it reveals your personal information and your internet browsing habits to the social networking websites you use and, in turn, to advertisers, marketers and possibly criminals who operate online.

For more information about the internet, see Networking and internet.

Data collection

Facebook, one of the most widely used sites worldwide, probably holds more data on more people around the world than any government, and this vast repository has been created by participants who voluntarily divulge details of their lives. However, as the number of Facebook subscribers has grown, there’s also been an increasing unease about how it uses this information. 

Governments, privacy experts, activists and many users are concerned about how and where this personal information is used, who can access it and how Facebook can be compelled to be responsible with this goldmine of data.

Understanding all the privacy settings for your account can be daunting. What you may not realise is that while you have some say over what your friends and the public can see of your profile, Facebook can accumulate personal user data for other purposes.

Your valuable personal information is used to provide targeted advertising within the Facebook platform, as well as to provide feedback to advertisers on who is clicking on their ads.

Privacy experts argue users’ personal information is the product being sold by Facebook to advertisers. A website called Facecrooks publishes information on scams and privacy issues related to Facebook and other social networking platforms to alert concerned people to the risks. It has a “safety centre” with tips and instructions on privacy and security. 

Some critics say Facebook exploits personal disclosure without providing adequate ways to permanently delete or redress comments, photos or other contributions that users don’t like, aren’t comfortable with or change their mind about.

It puts the onus on users to monitor and update changing privacy settings, they argue, and doesn’t offer adequate privacy protection for users because its real customers are the online behavioural advertising industry and buyers for online advertisers. Critics also say that Facebook doesn’t adequately address the implications and risks that come with encouraging other people to tag photos and identify you.

Privacy statistics

  • About two-thirds of internet users use social networking sites.
  • Most social networking site users (58%) restrict access to their profiles, and women are significantly more likely to choose private settings.
  • Some 67% of women who maintain a profile say they’ve deleted people from their network, compared with 58% of men.
  • More than half of social networking site users (58%) say their main profile is set to private so that only friends can see it; 19% set their profile to partially private so that friends of friends can view it, and 20% say their main profile is set to be completely public.
  • 26% of those whose profile is set  to at least partially private say they use additional privacy settings to limit what certain friends can and cannot see.
  • The complexity of privacy settings varies greatly across different social networking sites, and in the case of Facebook, the default settings have changed significantly over time.
  • In all, 48% of social networkers report some level of difficulty in managing the privacy controls on their profile, while 49% say that it is “not difficult at all”.
  • Ten per cent of social networking site users have posted content they regret.
  • Profile “pruning” – deleting unwanted friends, comments and photo tags – is growing in popularity.
  • Most social networking users are on Facebook and manage their social media presence through one account.

What else is out there?

Some other popular social networking sites include Twitter, the messaging service; LinkedIn, a professional site that promotes your work and skills; and Google+, a social sharing service.



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