Social Networking Privacy

About Social Networking Privacy

What do your long lost childhood best friend, your college roommate, your boss and your significant other all have in common? If you are one of the hundreds of millions of people using social networks, there’s a good chance that you are linked to them through an online relationship. The information you share with your online contacts allows you to keep in touch without much effort. But who else is looking at that information? And how are they going to use it?

Online social networks are websites that allow users to build connections and relationships to other Internet users. Social networks store information remotely, rather than on a user’s personal computer. Social networking can be used to keep in touch with friends, make new contacts and find people with similar interests and ideas.

These online services have grown in popularity since they were first adopted on a large scale in the late 1990s.  Pew Research shows that the number of adult Internet users who have a social networking profile more than quadrupled from 2005 to 2008. (See Pew Research’s Social Networks Grow: Friending Mom and Dad). By October 2012, the social network Facebook had exceeded a billion active accounts worldwide.

However, many people besides friends and acquaintances are interested in the information people post on social networks.  Identity thieves, scam artists, debt collectors, stalkers, and corporations looking for a market advantage are using social networks to gather information about consumers.  Companies that operate social networks are themselves collecting a variety of data about their users, both to personalize the services for the users and to sell to advertisers.

This fact sheet will provide information about the advantages and disadvantages of using social networks, what kind of information may be safe to post and how to protect it, as well as who is able to access different types of information posted to these networks.