Facebook privacy controls called 'labyrinthian'
Published Thursday, May 3, 2012 5:46PM EDT
Nearly 13 million U.S. Facebook users do not use the site's privacy controls or are unaware of them, exposing them to risks that they may not be fully aware of, says a new Consumer Reports investigation.
Calling the company's privacy controls and settings "labyrinthian," the report said that many users simply can't find their privacy settings or do not understand them.
The report also stated that many users do not fully realize how their online activity and personal information may be shared beyond their personal network of Facebook friends.
Popular Facebook activities such as "liking" a particular page or updating a status with personal information may expose users to risks they are unaware of.
For example, the report found that an estimated 4.7 million people have "liked" a page about a health condition or treatment, which could be used against them by insurers. Also, an estimated 4.8 million people disclosed details of where they are going on a particular day, tipping off potential burglars, said the report.
The social networking giant, which has 900 million users, allows people to stay in contact with friends, family and colleagues through updating personal profiles with information about themselves, their interests and their daily activities. The service, which is free of charge to users, makes much of its revenue through sharing user data with advertisers.
"That's great when it helps you find old classmates or see ads for things you actually want to buy," said the report. "But how much information is really being collected about you? How is it being used? And could it fall into the wrong hands?"
The report warned that users who fail to manage their online privacy risk sharing personal information to identity theft criminals, potential employers, college admissions boards and even the IRS.
Even users who increase their online security may be at risk, as friends of the user can transfer their data to a third party by using one of the many popular Facebook applications or "apps," said the report.
Thus, "Even users who adjust those settings can be surprised by where their information winds up."
Also of concern is the estimated jump in security issues, said the report. In 2011, approximately 7 million households experienced security issues with Facebook, such as someone using their log-ins, being harassed or threatened. This is a 30 per cent increase from 2010.
Facebook book responded via an emailed statement from company spokesperson Andrew Noyes. The email stated that "more than 900 million consumers have voluntarily decided to share and connect on Facebook because we provide them options and tools that place them in control of their information and experience. As part of our effort to empower and educate consumers, we always welcome constructive conversations about online privacy and safety."
Consumer Reports based its report on findings from a survey of approximately 2,000 households in the U.S. that had a home Internet connection.