Users getting smarter about online privacy

February 24, 2012

As the government grapples with what, exactly, is appropriate to ask companies to do in order to protect privacy online, average social media users appear to be getting a little smarter about what they can personally do to lock down the information that they control.

A study from the Pew Center’s Internet and American Life Project has found that Facebook and other social media users are pruning their friends list at greater rates than ever. According to the study, 63 percent of Internet users have deleted people from their friends lists on social media sites, up from 56 percent in 2009, and 44 percent have deleted comments made by others on their profiles. Also encouraging: two-thirds of those surveyed have restricted their profiles to “friends only.”

The study also found that about one-half of social media users — 48 percent — think that privacy controls are at least a little difficult to manage, while the other half say that it’s “not difficult at all.”

Yet despite an improvement in awareness about privacy settings, there were some surprising tidbits in the report as well. For example, given the furor over face-recognition technology, only 37 percent of users have removed their name from tagged photos.

On the whole, though it sounds like users are wising up and following the three ground rules for social media: Don’t overshare, know who can see what you post and keep a close eye on what’s associated with your name.

In fact, the best rule of all with social media is this: If you wouldn’t be comfortable with everybody seeing it, than don’t publish it at all.

Related stories:

Web privacy guidelines viewed as ‘win’ for Google

Nine of 10 teenagers have witnessed bullying on social networks, study finds

Your Facebook friends have more friends than you

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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