TrustArc Blog

The State of Privacy on Social Networks

April 29, 2013

MDG Advertising recently released a comprehensive infographic on “The Sad State of Social Media Privacy” providing an overview of privacy and social media based upon research from American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, Anonymizer, Harris Interactive, MSNBC and The Ponemon Institute. This infographic outlines data related to the issue of Trust/Distrust online amongst social media users, the general opinion about that confidence online in comparison to six years ago and the conclusions that consumers drew from their experiences.

To begin with, MDG looks at the users of social media and their attitudes towards the channels they use; 2 out of 3 active online users do not trust the sites that they are engaging with online. MDG includes some statistics that could be the cause of this distrust; 1 in 2 consumers have suffered between 4 and 10 online breaches of privacy in the last two years. Also, 68% of 158.9 million US Facebook users do not understand the site’s privacy settings and 61% are not clear on whether the information they share is being sold to advertisers.

In a TRUSTe OBA survey, some respondents expect that their IP address and computer brand may be tracked.  However, it is important to note that more information can be found offline and compiled with one’s online activity; such as criminal records, personal contact information and location.

Furthermore, the potential of this gathered information increases with the development of behavior pattern algorithms. According to recent research published in Scientific Reports, it is possible to identify a single mobile phone user based on 4 data points. The paper, entitled “Unique in the Crowd: The privacy bounds of human mobility” looked at “fifteen months of human mobility data for one and a half million individuals” and found that “human mobility traces are highly unique.”

It also appears that time has had an effect on how consumers feel about their privacy. In 2011 people felt less in control of their privacy settings (69%) then they did six years ago. with only 13% feeling more in control. A possible cause of this loss of control could be that there were fewer notifications of the use of personal information present and a lack of enforcement for data breaches. Interestingly enough is the fact that more of the active social media users think that privacy is less important today (58%), this loss of control does not make privacy more important today. Therefore, based on this infographic although the majority of users are aware that they are losing control, and believe that they cannot protect their personal information, it can be concluded that they do not care more about their privacy now. However, despite privacy not being of the highest importance to them, people want the ability to be in control 94% of U.S. consumers want control over who can collect their personal information and who can track them online.
Specifically, they want:

  • To know which of their information is being collected
  • To be able to make the choice of being tracked via location
  • To have the choice of not being tracked, and
  • One place where they can set their privacy settings that would work with all channels that they engage with on a daily basis

The feedback we received from our OBA Survey also confirms the data from the MDG infographic and reveals that the concern is that users do not know what information is collected about them when they use free online tools. Since consumers are more engaged with search and other online services habitually, they are not as concerned with what is done with their information. Rather, they are more concerned with how much personal information they have consensually put out there and shared online.

Otherwise, sharing could in fact be caring. Studies have shown that 61% of social network users would share more if they could control who sees what they share. Therefore, it is within the nature of an average online user to express and connect online, but uncertainty prevents them from fully expressing this disposition.

Full infographic:
The Sad State of Social Media Privacy [infographic by MDG Advertising]

Infographicby MDG Advertising