Every year around this time, Consumer Reports reveals startling data on Internet user behavior in its annual “State of the Net” survey. Last year, the big hubbub was around the huge number of underage kids reportedly on Facebook (7.5 MILLION), with an estimated five million of those kids under the age of 10.
This year, attention turns to Facebook’s privacy settings and more importantly, what people are revealing about themselves on their Facebook pages. The State of the Net survey, which polled more than 2,000 online households, found many users to be either unaware or unaffected by the choices they have when it comes to privacy and their accounts. According to Consumer Reports, approximately 13 million of Facebook’s 150 million U.S. users have never implemented (or are unaware of) Facebook’s privacy settings, which can lead to potentially “exposing personal information beyond their network of friends.”
Keep in mind when your privacy controls aren’t in place and you announce publicly that you’re leaving for a week-long family vacation, the information is out there for your network AND the entire public to see and know. Consumer Reports found that 4.8 million are guilty of oversharing their location, (great from a burglar’s perspective); and also that 4.7 million “liked” a page about a health condition or treatment, with CR points as a detail that an insurance company can potentially use against you. The very least you can do is limit the number of people who see your Facebook posts by only broadcasting these personal facts to your friend network, as opposed to 'Everyone.'
Here are other personal tidbits that survey respondents make public on Facebook:
- 39.3 million identified a family member in a profile
- 20.4 million included their birth date and year in their profile
- 7.7 million "liked" a Facebook page pertaining to a religious affiliation
- 4.6 million discussed their love life on their wall
- 2.6 million discussed their recreational use of alcohol on their wall
- 2.3 million "liked" a page regarding sexual orientation
It’s a catch-22 because Facebook is all about sharing information, linking to personal and professional networks and providing updates on your life to large groups of people in one fell swoop. But when privacy settings aren’t implemented, this data users input into Facebook goes far beyond just being seen by close friends and dear Aunt Sally. That app that you downloaded, that page that you “liked,” that link that you clicked can be collected and recorded by Facebook itself, third party vendors and much more.
Before you start having anxiety over what you have and haven’t shared, the first thing to do is to check your Facebook privacy settings and make sure they are set to the most stringent options available. Consumer Reports offers a handy guide on how to "Protect Your Privacy on Facebook" and there are plenty of other resources available online simply by searching for Facebook privacy settings, like this “Must-Know Security Settings” from PC World.
In addition, Consumer Reports offers the following nine tips for protecting yourself on Facebook:
- Think before you type. Even if you delete an account (which takes Facebook about a month), some info can remain in Facebook’s computers for up to 90 days.
- Regularly check your exposure. Each month, check out how your page looks to others. Review individual privacy settings if necessary.
- Protect basic information. Set the audience for profile items, such as your town or employer. And remember: Sharing info with “friends of friends” could expose it to tens of thousands.
- Know what you can’t protect. Your name and profile picture are public. To protect your identity, don’t use a photo, or use one that doesn’t show your face.
- “UnPublic” your wall. Set the audience for all previous wall posts to just friends.
- Turn off Tag Suggest. If you’d rather not have Facebook automatically recognize your face in photos, disable that feature in your privacy settings. The information will be deleted.
- Block apps and sites that snoop. Unless you intercede, friends can share personal information about you with apps. To block that, use controls to limit the info apps can see.
- Keep wall posts from friends. You don’t have to share every wall post with every friend. You can also keep certain people from viewing specific items in your profile.
- When all else fails, deactivate. When you deactivate your account, Facebook retains your profile data, but the account is made temporarily inaccessible. Deleting an account, on the other hand, makes it inaccessible to you forever.
The full report will be available in the June 2012 issue of Consumer Reports and a thorough explanation of the study’s findings can be found on the magazine’s website.
If you have a question for Screen Play or would like to submit a product for consideration, please contact LetsPlugIn@gmail.com.