Shop smart: Millions on Facebook disregard privacy controls
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Nearly 13 million U.S. Facebook users do not use, or are not aware of, the site's privacy controls, according to a Consumer Reports investigation on Facebook and privacy. As a result, users are potentially exposing personal information beyond their network of Facebook friends.
The report also revealed that a projected 4.8 million people have posted about where they planned to go on a certain day, a potential tip-off to burglars. And some 4.7 million users have "liked" a Facebook page about health conditions or treatments, details that insurers might use against them.
The CR investigation focused on Facebook as it is the largest social network; the site and other social networks collect enormous amounts of information and distribute it widely and quickly.
CR points out that all of this data collection is not without risk. A projected 7 million households using Facebook said they had trouble last year, ranging from someone using their log-in without permission to being harassed or threatened -- up 30 percent from the previous year, according to the Consumer Reports Annual State of the Net survey.
And unless an individual has chosen his privacy settings meticulously, one of his friends who runs an app could grant it access to his information without his knowledge, including information that was set to "friends only" view. Only 37 percent of users say they have used the site's privacy tools to customize how much information apps are allowed to see, according to the CR survey.
Facebook offers many privacy controls that may not be easy to understand. Below are tips from CR that will help users understand and utilize privacy tools:
• Think before typing. Even if a user deletes his account -- which takes Facebook about a month -- some info can remain in Facebook's computers for up to 90 days.
• Know what can't be protected. To protect your identity, don't use a photo, or use one that doesn't show your face.
• Block apps and sites that snoop. Unless users intercede, friends can share personal information about them with apps.
• Keep wall posts from friends. Users can also keep certain people from viewing specific items in their profile.
• When all else fails, deactivate. When a user deactivates his account, Facebook retains profile data, but the account is made temporarily inaccessible. Deleting an account, on the other hand, makes it inaccessible forever.
First Published August 19, 2012 12:00 am