Evidence That Social Network Privacy Is an Oxymoron

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privacy_smallADOTAS – We like to kid that Facebook privacy is an oxymoron, but Columbia University has new evidence that social network privacy settings really are a joke. A study of 65 student Facebook users found that 94% of the participants were sharing personal information they thought was private — and 95% were sure that their privacy settings “matched their attitude toward privacy.”

In addition, 84% of the students discovered that their privacy settings hid information they meant to make public. But here’s the catch — almost all of the survey participants said privacy fails had yet to negatively effect them.

Interestingly, the Columbia researchers argue that Facebook’s and other social networks’ privacy policies “are fundamentally flawed and cannot be fixed.” Facebook’s reliance on data types for defining privacy preferences fails to take context of use into account. The researchers suggest a “category”-based system that predicts context.

The study also finds that three-level privacy hierarchy could be more effective: “Participants were given a sharing choice of show, hide, or apathetic for each information type and profile group pair. The participants selected apathetic more often than anticipated. The accuracy of privacy settings may be improved if users were given an apathetic or ‘don’t care’ option.”

Download the report here (PDF).

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