Late Teens and Facebook Privacy

Facebook Privacy Settings: Who Cares?” by danah boyd and Eszter Hargittai.

Abstract: With over 500 million users, the decisions that Facebook makes about its privacy settings have the potential to influence many people. While its changes in this domain have often prompted privacy advocates and news media to critique the company, Facebook has continued to attract more users to its service. This raises a question about whether or not Facebook’s changes in privacy approaches matter and, if so, to whom. This paper examines the attitudes and practices of a cohort of 18– and 19–year–olds surveyed in 2009 and again in 2010 about Facebook’s privacy settings. Our results challenge widespread assumptions that youth do not care about and are not engaged with navigating privacy. We find that, while not universal, modifications to privacy settings have increased during a year in which Facebook’s approach to privacy was hotly contested. We also find that both frequency and type of Facebook use as well as Internet skill are correlated with making modifications to privacy settings. In contrast, we observe few gender differences in how young adults approach their Facebook privacy settings, which is notable given that gender differences exist in so many other domains online. We discuss the possible reasons for our findings and their implications.

Posted on August 11, 2010 at 6:00 AM13 Comments


zoli kincses August 11, 2010 7:24 AM


let me propose to the researchers to repeat the survey after 3-4 years with the same people.

Young generation has not enough bad experience to care about privacy.


Rob Seder August 11, 2010 7:49 AM

I think it’s just the line of scrimmage has been pushed back.

In the “olden days”, a company (specifically, a physical person) had to talk to you and pursuade you to give up your information. We realized the implications, and refused. The new model is companies “set a trap” in front of your house, and let you come to IT. In other words, they simply “offer” a place for you to put your private information. Children look around and say “Hmm… looks like no one is around, so what’s the harm?”. There isn’t an immediate connection between the information they are sharing, and the value to others that it has.

I think the younger generation just doesn’t know any better because the corporation has gotten much more subtle and has smartened up. Companies realize they can get so much more by not directly asking or directly confronting people. By instead offering a place to put your personal information and then pretending they don’t care if you put it, gives the impression that it’s not dangerous/not valuable.

So the trick here is how to do we manage that gap? Companies have smartened up, and young people don’t understand the implications of giving up this information. I guess all we can do is continue to try to educate…

Tree August 11, 2010 8:18 AM

I think this sentence needs to be pointed out to assist some with their reading comprehension:

“Our results challenge widespread assumptions that youth do not care about and are not engaged with navigating privacy.”

uk visa August 11, 2010 8:24 AM

There was interesting coverage on the Face Book Union on the Guardian’s Tech Weekly and the interesting concept that future social media sites will operate a profit share with the users; after all, the users are the value…

kevinm August 11, 2010 9:52 AM

Atul Agarwal told Full Disclosure about how he noticed that if you enter the wrong password on Facebook it still displays your photo and full name. You can use that to get the name and photo behind an e-mail address. I also noticed that Facebook will “correct” misspelling of the e-mail address, if you only have the local-part of the address Facebook will supply the domain if there is a unique match. I entered and Facebook corrected that to

Clive Robinson August 11, 2010 10:00 AM

@ Tree,

“I think this sentence needs to be pointed out…”

Yes it indicates that the researchers disagree with a preformed assumption they have or have gained fro others. Not that there was any truth to it.

Also it does not say that “youth” know what to do about guarding their privacy.

Being aware of something and being able to deal with it rationaly are two different things..

Technicaly 18 & 19 year olds are these days adults with full responsability for their actions and not really “youths” (see what criminal law in your jurisdiction says about “youth / young” offenders).

Remember that within living memory you did not become fully legaly responsable until being 21.

Also I’m aware that a lot of social network sites have “youths” as young as 14 in amongst their patrons.

In many parts of the world being under 14 is a protection from the effects of the laws of the land.

I for one don’t think that a 14 yearold has sufficient “world skills” or “street cred” to be able to spot issues that the majority of adults well over 21 miss due to lack of experiance.

The thing that none of us currently know is how the percieved “sins of the child” will revisit them and “blight their adult life”.

In the UK untill just a few days ago there was a “childrens database” that threatend to record every aspect of a childs life as seen by others that had no training to make their observations or fear of being chalenged for whatever they entered into the database.

And when you consider that England is a nation of curtain twitching busy bodies desperatly trying to maintain credability with an appaling record of incompetence with dealing with families and children (look up “satanic abuse”).

Worse the political solution to these failings was to set targets for amongst other things adoption rates from state care…

However it is a well known and accepted fact that the older a child is the less likley it is to be adopted or even fostered (healthy babies are usually in very short supply for adoption).

Thus it has been reported that since the targets have been set the number of babies being taken away from their natural mothers increased at a rate similar to the increase in adoption rate to meet government % targets…

And these same people are “the professionals” who would be tasked with entering data into the database…

Tom Ryan August 11, 2010 10:16 AM

Very interesting research, but I was wondering if they had further demographics. Were all the people sampled from the United States? If not where?

“This paper examines the attitudes and practices of a cohort of 18– and 19–year–olds surveyed in 2009 and again in 2010 about Facebook’s privacy settings.”

I like the targeted age group because they are most open to sharing information, pictures, etc. Was there a particular demographic as far as education? When I conducted experiments for “The Robin Sage Experiment”, we approached over 200 students from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, Saint Pauls, Exeter, Milton Academy. We successfully friended 10 individuals and most of their profiles were locked pretty well.

Rooker August 11, 2010 7:10 PM

It’s encouraging to see young people paying attention. I’ll bet many of the ones reconfiguring their privacy settings now are the ones who remember being outraged a few years ago to find parents and teachers harassing them about their blogs. I’ll bet many of the ones who are still blase about privacy haven’t had the experience of a parent, teacher or employer question them about something they posted to the interwebs.

I always like to point out a curious fact about these sorts of privacy discussions. The loudest voices saying that nobody cares about privacy on the web always seems to belong to tech entrepreneurs who personally stand to gain many billions of dollars just as soon as they convince everyone to give up their privacy.

Cos August 12, 2010 12:40 AM

People are looking at the wrong metrics.

I know a couple of people who left Facebook because of its confusing ever-changing privacy controls, and some more whose resolve not to join was reinforced, but it’s a trivial number compared to the people I know who continued using Facebook a lot, and the new ones who joined. Whether or not people join (or leave) isn’t the big thing.

The real effect of Facebook’s near-complete flubbing of privacy management – and messaging – in the past couple of years has been to affect how much and how widely people share.

Many many many of my friends on Facebook now both a) post less content, and/or b) limit access to what they post much more narrowly, and c) a lot of them have deleted stuff, like photo albums and status updates.

Heck, even though I like to share a lot and share widely, even I’ve locked down some of my albums and removed some photos and so on, due to requests from friends. And it affects the access controls I set on my status updates, and my decisions about what photos to upload, without even being prompted anymore, because there are plenty of things I’d be happy making public that I suspect other people mentioned would prefer not be public.

Compared to people leaving Facebook, or not joining, this effect is multiple orders of magnitude more significant in my little (well, not so little) corner of Facebook.

Sejanus August 12, 2010 2:03 PM

I deleted my facebook account immediately after someone had tagged me in their photos. I was under impression I disabled tagging me in privacy settings, it turned out I was wrong. Just decided I had not time for learning all privacy related nuances.

JW August 15, 2010 2:17 AM

I would be interested in whether anyone had done some research into the relative usage between people of the same generations who have lived in a stable democracy all their lives and those who had experience living in East Germany with the Stasi before the wall came down for example.

In effect is it an age related thing or learning by bitter experience thing?

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