Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

As Privacy Concerns Grow, More Social Media Users Are “Unfriending”

As concerns about online privacy grow, users of social media sites are increasingly looking to unfriend other users and “prune” their personal profiles, according to a new report out today from Pew Research Center.

More than 60 percent of social media users said last year that they deleted people from their friends lists, up from 56 percent in 2009; and 26 percent of users who keep their profiles private say they apply additional privacy settings to limit what some friends can see.

Profile “pruning” — deleting comments friends leave and untagging photos — is also on the rise, the report says.

Women are significantly more likely to keep their profiles private, and are more likely to unfriend people than men are, with 67 percent of women saying they’ve removed friends, compared with 58 percent of men. Young people are more likely to manage their social media presences by deleting comments and untagging photos.

Some 48 percent of social media users say they experience some level of difficulty managing privacy controls on their profiles — but 49 percent say the process is “not difficult” at all. A tiny sample of those surveyed say it’s “very difficult.”

The report highlights a divide between those who may care about privacy when it comes to social networks and those who seemingly do not. As Pew notes, it could be interpreted that avid users of social networks, who share lots of personal details, have abandoned any expectations of privacy, or are “uniquely unconcerned” about online privacy.

On the other side, Pew says, privacy advocates say the public still “cares deeply about their privacy online but those sensitivities have been ill-served by technology companies.”

The report comes just as the White House has moved to create a privacy bill of rights, aimed at governing online data tracking. One of the issues at hand is a “do not track” tool which Web companies like Google have just agreed to support. Last week, Google was reported to be using deceptive practices to track Web users in certain browsers.

As The Wall Street Journal notes, though, a “do not track” button would allow for some Web data collection — such as the data gathered through Facebook’s “Like” button.

Pew is careful not to point to Facebook directly throughout the report, but notes that Facebook is by far the most popular U.S. social network (in its recent S-1 filing, Facebook showed that its user base has ballooned to more than 845 million). Pew’s report says that the term “privacy settings” — as well as “unfriend” — are part and parcel of the Facebook experience.

The Pew survey on Internet usages was conducted between April and May of last year, and sampled more than 2,200 U.S. adults 18 and older. The survey found that two-thirds of U.S. Internet users had profiles on social networking sites, up from just 20 percent in 2006.

In terms of who was more likely to post things on social networks that they later admitted they regretted, males were almost twice as likely to do so, with 15 percent copping to it, than were females, at 8 percent. Young adults, age 18 to 29, were also more likely to post content that they’d later regret on social networks.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr/Oli Dunkley)


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