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Facebook Users Sharing More Personal Information Online

Facebook users are sharing less personal information publicly and more privately, but despite attempts to protect their privacy on the site, they often unwittingly end up sharing personal details with third-party apps and advertisers, according to a new study published in The Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality.

The study, "Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook" was conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) from 2005 to 2011. According to the university, it's the first longitudinal study to document changes in social networking privacy and disclosure over an extended period of time.

Researchers profiled data from a panel of 5,076 Facebook users and found that their behavior on the network changed over time.

From 2005 to 2009, Facebook users gradually decreased the amount of personal information they shared publicly on the site.

In 2009 and 2010, Facebook implemented a changes to its user interface and default settings, which led to a significant increase in public sharing of personal information.

Since 2009, Facebook users have gradually increased the amount of personal information they share privately with their Facebook "friends" but consequently they have also increased the amount of personal information they share with "silent listeners" such as third-party apps and advertisers, often without realizing they are doing so.

"These findings highlight the tension between privacy choices as expressions of individual subjective preferences and the role of the network environment in shaping those choices," said Alessandro Acquisti, co-author of the study and associate professor of information technology and public policy at CMU, in a prepared statement. "While people try to take control of their personal information, the network keeps changing, affecting their decisions and changing their privacy outcomes."

The complete report, "Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and DIsclosure on Facebook" is available from Carnegie Mellon University at repository.cmu.edu.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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