Webroot revealed some interesting insights into the thoughts and behaviors of users on social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, and others. According to their survey, a majority of users (78%) reported concerns about their social network profiles' privacy, but when asked about specific behaviors it was apparent that "concern" didn't translate into action. In fact, it didn't even seem to translate into a basic understanding of how to use the privacy tools already in place on the networks today.Recently, new data from security solutions company
Is Your Profile Public? Err...I Don't Know
Seeing that a majority of social networking users expressed concerns about the information they shared in their profile, it's somewhat surprising to find that 80 percent of those same users allow their profiles - or at least, part of them - to be indexed by public search engines like Google. And 66% of users don't restrict any profile information from being publicly searchable.
Those numbers are based on the realities of the situation as tracked by Webroot, but when asked directly about their profile's publicity, a lot of respondents didn't even know the answer. A whopping 59% of the 1100 surveyed said they weren't sure who could see their profile.
To top it off, 32% of users shared at least three pieces of identifiable information on their profile pages and 28% accepted friend requests from complete strangers. These sorts of behaviors show a distinct lack of understanding about the risks of sharing personal information with those you don't know. It also certainly shows that being concerned about privacy hasn't been enough of an incentive for users to take any action to change their behavior.
The Younger You Are, the More You
Webroot also found that younger social networking users took more risks than any other demographic. Those users ages 18 to 29 tended to use the same password across multiple sites (51% versus 36% overall), accepted friend requests from strangers (40% versus 28% overall), and shared more personal information online. In this age group, 67% shared their birthday (vs. 52% overall), 62% shared their home town (vs. 50% overall), and 45% shared their employer (vs. 35% overall).
Not surprisingly, this overly trusting group also reported more security attacks than others with nearly 40% having experienced an attack versus 30% overall.
Are Privacy Settings Too Hard to Use?
What's surprising about these findings is that most of today's modern social networks provide privacy settings that allow you to keep your personal information from being indexed or viewed by anyone except those you choose.
Even simple social networks, like microblogging site Twitter, let you set your feed to private, if you so desire. Facebook, now the largest social network in the U.S., offers robust privacy settings and is working on making them even more reflective of our real-world relationships. But clearly, there's a disconnect between what tools are out there and the users' knowledge of what's available or how to use them.
What can social networks do, though? Is it enough to simply offer the tools then put the onus on the users to dig around until they find them? Or should there be more guides and wizards provided in order to make turning on privacy settings a chore that even the less technically-inclined can handle?
As it stands today with so many mainstream users joining social networks, it may be time that social networks stopped hiding privacy options features deep within the settings (an area we'd wager the everyday user rarely accesses). Networks need to start highlighting your options or at least linking to the settings, somewhere a bit more obvious - like the profile page itself, for example.
Of course, even if social networks did so, there would still be a subset of users who were simply uninterested in doing anything about it. We suppose they would still have to learn the hard way about the risks of over-sharing, but at the very least, a larger part of the online population would be able to protect themselves and their personal info.