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Facebook users becoming more private

A new study suggests that Facebook users are becoming more concerned about sharing their personal information and are taking the steps to ensure at least some level of privacy for their social networking activity.

The study, which was conducted by the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, looked at the public profile pages of 1.4 million New York City-based Facebook users in March 2010 and then again in June 2011, noting which aspects of the profile were accessible and which were hidden.

In March 2010, 17 percent of Facebook users in the sample hid their friend list from their public profile, a figure which grew to 53 percent just 15 months later. Other aspects of the user profile, including age, high school name and graduation year, network, relationship, gender, interests, hometown, and current city were also hidden with greater frequency. In 2010, just 12 percent hid information in all those categories; in 2011, that number had jumped to 33 percent.

The leader of the study, Keith Ross, credits a combination of social and policy factors for the shift in privacy preferences. “During the time of our research, Facebook implemented a major redesign in its privacy options, partly due to pressure generated by a huge uptick in media stories about the vulnerabilities of revealing personal information online,” explained Ross. “We believe that greater sensitivity and public awareness of privacy issues, combined with easier privacy options on Facebook, spurred more members to protect their information.”

The study also revealed some other interesting statistics regarding privacy preferences. Women were more private than men when it came to restricting personal information (55 percent vs. 49 percent), and users from the wealthier areas of New York City also tended to be more private. (Manhattan led the way, followed by Staten Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens.)

While some may claim that the results of the study may not be representative of Facebook users as a whole, the researchers believe that the diversity of the New York City sample is a good indicator of a general trend towards more privacy.



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