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Pew Data Shows Increased Concern For Privacy Online

An increasing number of people are taking steps to protect personal information on social media profiles, according to results of a Pew Research Center study published on Friday. More than 50 percent of respondents keep their social media profiles completely hidden from the public.

About two-thirds of Internet users have some sort of social media profile online. These profiles connect people known to users in real life and online and often include personal information that includes their location, daily activities, places of employment, and family members.

The Pew Research Center says the debate over Internet privacy has become so increasingly polarized that one camp says privacy is dead—primarily because people are so willing to share intimate details online that any reasonable expectation of privacy is gone. “Other threads of the privacy-is-dead argument point to the relative ease with which people’s digital footprints and physical whereabouts can now be tracked and the great lengths to which someone must go to protect their anonymity online — or offline,” Pew says.

Despite privacy complaints, consumers still freely provide personal information, according to a 2007 study published in theJournal for Consumer Affairs. Opposing views argue that the public still has privacy concerns, but companies haven’t been quick to develop adequate privacy tools. Also there’s money to be made from the sharing of personal information. People may be comfortable sharing some personal information, but it doesn’t mean “they have quietly surrendered all control” over what they want to share online, critics say.

The numbers say most social media users are taking their online privacy at least somewhat seriously.

Only 20 percent of respondents to aPew Internet and American Life Project survey said they keep their main social media profile completely public. Fifty-eight percent say their main profile is set to private so that only people they have connected with can access their information. These numbers remain relatively unchanged across age groups. About half of social media users said they often found managing privacy controls online confusing.

Women are more conservative with what information they are willing to share online and who they share it with, Pew reports. Sixty-three percent of people have engaged in “profile pruning,” removing people from their networks (and activity is up from 56 percent in 2009 overall), but women delete people at a higher percentage than men—67 percent compared to 58 percent.

Sixty-seven percent of women keep their profiles hidden from the public compared to 48 percent of men.

One in 10 users reported posting something they regretted to a social media profile. Male profile owners are almost twice as likely as female profile owners to have content they regret posting, (15 percent vs. eight percent) Pew reports.

Other findings from the Pew survey included responses that suggest that college graduates were less likely to have trouble managing their privacy controls and 93 percent of respondents said they had a Facebook profile.PEW STUDY_Privacy_management_on_social_media_sites_022412.pdf

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