Facebook privacy settings: Who cares?

Eszter Hargittai and I just published a new article in First Monday entitled: “Facebook privacy settings: Who cares?”

Abstract: With over 500 million users, the decisions that Facebook makes about its privacy settings have the potential to influence many people. While its changes in this domain have often prompted privacy advocates and news media to critique the company, Facebook has continued to attract more users to its service. This raises a question about whether or not Facebook’s changes in privacy approaches matter and, if so, to whom. This paper examines the attitudes and practices of a cohort of 18– and 19–year–olds surveyed in 2009 and again in 2010 about Facebook’s privacy settings. Our results challenge widespread assumptions that youth do not care about and are not engaged with navigating privacy. We find that, while not universal, modifications to privacy settings have increased during a year in which Facebook’s approach to privacy was hotly contested. We also find that both frequency and type of Facebook use as well as Internet skill are correlated with making modifications to privacy settings. In contrast, we observe few gender differences in how young adults approach their Facebook privacy settings, which is notable given that gender differences exist in so many other domains online. We discuss the possible reasons for our findings and their implications.

We look forward to your comments!

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5 thoughts on “Facebook privacy settings: Who cares?

  1. Franzi

    I’ve never run any user studies but I’ve read a lot of them; do you ever find yourself frustrated with the limitations on the conclusions you can reasonably draw from your data? I often feel like evidence for the really interesting things is just out of reach because collected user data only tells you so much.

  2. jon

    Excellent paper, danah. Timely, too. Props to you and Eszter.

    Interesting gender data. It seemed like there was a notable gender difference in confidence of ‘low-skilled’ users — women were less confident. As you point out though women are more likely to see themselves as at risk, and so have more incentive to change settings even if they are not confident. One potential interpretation these results is that changing settings multiple times leads to mastery and increased confidence for women.

    And good point about fear being a problematic motivator here!


  3. John Hardee

    Facebook fills a gap caused by suburban housing, (read isolation), the automobile, and the ability to travel or move to distant locations. The small town of yesterday is a gone. People need each other and as they age and begin to track the past more than the present, or anticipate the future. People need the memories of their lives with desperation to help as they part from children, and begin to anticipate death, separation again. Facebook allows people to continue to wallow in the memories of life shared with those who experienced them. I think people do not care what they must give up to get some social contact they so desperately desire. I also think people overall have a limited understanding of modern technology. If you publish the Bible can they read it?

  4. Luc St-Laurent

    Thank you danah (& Eszter) for this research.

    Considering that Zuckerberg implies that privacy goes against engagement, your research makes it easy to understand why privacy settings keep changing. Skills goes against engagement. Interesting paradox.

    I like the Raynes-Goldie distinction because I often feel that many users change their settings based on their understanding of the consequences of a lack of privacy. These are easily perceived on the “Social” side, but much less, albeit very real, on the “Institutional” side.

    Looking forward to reading you and Marwick.

  5. Anmol

    I dont even think that Facebook can sustain the market anymore.
    And theres also hype about “Google me”, what do you think about that ?

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