Report: 13 million U.S. Facebook users don't use privacy settings

Posted May 6, 2012 by Leigh Goessl
Facebook and privacy always seem to be joined at the hip, yet often the two do not truly connect. Over time the social network giant has had substantial privacy issues that were beyond the user's control.
In a press release issued on May 3, courtesy of Marketwatch, it was announced Consumer Reports published a study in its June 2012 issue that reveals the results of an investigation examining Facebook and privacy.
The intent was to find the answers to such questions as "How much information is really being collected about you?," "How is it being used?," "Could it fall into the wrong hands?"
Researchers questioned a group of individuals which included a variety of individual perspectives, including Facebook, security experts, app developers, privacy lawyers and victims of exposed information. Additionally, 2,002 online households were surveyed.
During the analysis, it was found a large amount of data has been exposed, and the fault does not completely rest with Facebook in this respect. According to the report, almost 13 million Facebook users in the U.S. do not use, or are unaware of, the privacy settings provided by Facebook. Of that number, 28 percent are sharing all, or most, of their information beyond their immediate circle of friends.
Although, it may not be clear how many of this group of users just don't bother with the controls, or find the privacy settings too confusing. The network's approach to privacy controls have historically been convoluted.
Consumer Reports did note some people are sitting up and paying attention to privacy. An increase of 15 percent of individuals from two years ago falsify Facebook profile information; the percent of individuals fluffing on their profiles stands at 25 percent, but had previously been only at 10 percent.
The other key takeaways of the privacy-centric report were:
• Many people share too much information. As more agencies, organizations, businesses and even criminals, amass data, this over-sharing could possibly lead to trouble. The report found "a projected 4.8 million people have posted about where they planned to go on a certain day, a potential tip-off to burglars while 4.7 million have "liked" a Facebook page about health conditions or treatments, details that insurers might use against them."
• Facebook amasses a significant amount of data, Consumer Reports says, "more than you can imagine" (Is this really a surprise to anyone?)
• Privacy laws are inconsistent. This is also probably not surprising since the Internet is not governed under one set of laws. For instance, European laws are far more stringent than those of the U.S.
• Data is distributed "more widely" than individuals may desire. For instance, if you have friends using certain Facebook apps, they may (likely inadvertently) allow your data into the hands of third parties, and you'd be none the wiser.
The research also found some other types of "problems are on the rise," noting 11 percent of households which use Facebook experiencing difficulties with unauthorized access to their account, and also "being harassed and threatened."
Data is a hot commodity and companies in the modern business environment actively pursue data. The amount of data that passes through Facebook each day is staggering.
Privacy advocates recommend educating yourself, reading terms of service and noting any changes made over time, and to also use those privacy settings. Privacy settings do not guarantee your data will be 100 percent private, but it's another layer of protection. Those millions of people not using settings are basically giving their information away in a very public arena.
However, the report also notes that while privacy controls are an improvement, some say the "core" issues are still not addressed.
Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia University, is concerned the social network giant's emphasis on user controlled privacy is “like a magician who waves a brightly colored handkerchief in the right hand so that the left hand becomes invisible. From a consumer’s viewpoint, Facebook’s fatal design error isn’t that Johnny can see Billy’s data. It’s that Facebook has uncontrolled access to everybody’s data, regardless of the so-called privacy settings.”
The report is far more detailed and worth a read as it also discusses the data Facebook does retain long after users think it's gone, biometric data, ways data can slip through privacy controls, and much more.