facebook privacy Study finds that Facebooks privacy options often confounds users

A new study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University reveals that changes in Facebook’s privacy policies resulted in users sharing even more private details about their lives to others.  Facebook’s confusing privacy options are partly to blame.

Facebook has come a long way since it first appeared back in early 2004.  Since that time it has grown to be the largest social networking site ever created with approximately 1 billion users.  In fact Facebook is so popular now that in one of their own studies they found that approximately 92% of Facebook users are only separated by four degrees of separation or an average of 4.74 hops between people.

As the numbers of users on Facebook quickly began to climb over the years, concerns over privacy from its users grew along with it.  However, as Facebook added more complex privacy options, it resulted in just the opposite according to a recent study out of Carnegie Mellon University.

The surprising study titled, "Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook", reveals that when Facebook added more protection to privacy more people gave up their private personal data to the public.  The study was conducted from 2005-2011 by researchers following 5,076 Facebook users that recorded all of the changes the users made on their personal data. 

“We also observed a significant shift for many of these profile elements between the years 2009 and 2010, when public disclosure increased,” the researchers wrote in part. “We concluded that changes to privacy policy and interface settings by Facebook produced greater public disclosures.”

Simply stated, when Facebook added more detailed privacy settings, it did not help with people keeping their data private.  The study found that the complex privacy options along with third-party access to data were a big part of the problem as well.  It further noted that the added Community Pages and Connected Profiles features added in 2010 gave a genuine “misdirection of users’ attention” and caused users to alter their data availability.

Source: "Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook" by Fred Stutzman, et. al.