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How Private Is Your Social Media?

Facebook alone has over one billion active monthly users and 13 million of them have never touched their privacy settings,  according to recent research done by Marketo. Other disturbing finds from the same study:

  • 28% share all, or almost all, of their wall posts with an audience wider than just their friends.
  • 11% of Facebook users said that someone else has tried to use their login without their permission.

According to Pew Internet Research (May 2013), teens are sharing more on social media today than they were when the first Pew privacy study was done in 2006:

  • 91% post photos of themselves, up from 79% in 2006
  • 71% post their school name, up from 49%
  • 71% post the city or town where they live
  • 53% post their email address, up from 29%
  • 20% post their phone numbers, up from 2%

Do these stats show that young people are more confident about their privacy on social media or that they are less concerned? Sixty percent of teens in the same survey said they have their Facebook profiles set to “friends only” and report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their privacy.

With the addition of Facebook Graph Search, it has never been more important to manage privacy settings in Facebook. Graph Search, introduced in January 2013, allows Facebook users (and advertisers) to search for people on Facebook on the basis of information that is revealed in their personal profile.

Not long after Facebook Graph Search launched, blogger Tom Scott released a now-famous piece on Tumblr showing some of the potential problems the new feature can present. Scott searched random terms he thought could be potentially problematic just to see who might pop up on the radar. The terms included “married people who like prostitutes” and “mothers of Jews who like bacon.” The results were horrifying to many who thought their information on Facebook was private. In the screenshots below from the actual searches, Scott hid the profile pictures and names to protect the ignorant.


The online security software company McAfee released their Digital Deception Study in May 2013. It revealed some interesting facts about the digital disconnect between parents and kids from ages 10 to 23 years old. The study found that the majority of kids know about the privacy dangers associated with the internet but may choose to ignore the dangers. This explains some of the confidence that the Pew report refers to on how young people use and share information on the internet.

The McAfee graphic below depicts much the same information as the Marketo report. It shows that even though young people are aware of internet privacy dangers, there is a huge disconnect when it comes to internet privacy best practices.

The report recommends frequent education and updates to get young people to take action on their own privacy settings. In other words, knowing does not necessarily equate to action, but frequency of information dissemination may help. 

This is an excerpt from the new e-book Practice Safe Social by Chris Syme.

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