Online Privacy: Think Twice!

First, just take a second to think about these following questions.

  • ž   Are you using any social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)?
  • ž   Is your profile set as accessible by anyone, or by friends only?
  • ž   Do you concern about privacy issues when using social networks? If yes, do you think you have protected your personal information well?
  • ž   Have you ever involved in a privacy invasion issue? If yes, what did you do next?

Well, I believe nearly everyone will answer yes to the first question. If you are a university student as I am, life without Facebook is unimaginative, let alone other SNSs. In Fogela and Nehmadb’s research, they found that more than three-quarter of the students had created a social networking profile (Fogela & Nehmadb, 2009), and to me it is obvious that the number has increased these years.

For the second question, I guess most people will choose “friends only”. As everybody knows, in most social networks, you have the choice to set your profile as public to anyone, or to only be seen by the ones you have confirmed as friends. Let’s take Facebook as an example again. In fact, Facebook had some serious flaws in set-ups that facilitate privacy breaches, and the ability to restrict one’s profile to be viewed by friends only, failed for the first 3 years of its existence (Jones & Soltren, 2005).

If your answer is yes to my third question “Do you concern about privacy issues when using social networks?“, it is a good idea to protect your information by using privacy settings. A much easier way is to present as little as possible information on your profile. Nevertheless, almost 10% participants in Fogela and Nehmadb’s study provided phone number or home address on their online profile (Fogela & Nehmadb, 2009). Particularly among young adolescents, confidence in their ability to protect their personal information from e-marketers may be so strong and widespread that they have little concern for the negative consequences of information disclosure (Youn, 2009).

Of course you can say you are not like those naïve young guys. You may think that you have protected your personal information well by setting profile restrictions, but actually things turn out differently. Although this function is now reliable in Facebook, there are still  potential privacy problems related to different understandings of the word “friend”. I guess many people will confirm a friend request according to how many common friends they both have, but not judging by if they really know this person in their real life. Fogela and Nehmadb found that compared to women, men tend to be unconcerned and are comfortable with allowing strangers to become their friends and have access to their profile (Fogela & Nehmadb, 2009). Another study shows that although the vast majority of users claim to be familiar with Facebook’s privacy settings and report protecting their profile, they still allow large groups of ‘‘friends’’ to get access to detailed personal information (Debatin, Lovejoy, Horn & Hughes, 2009).

Then it comes to my last question ” Have you ever involved in a privacy invasion issue? If yes, what did you do next?“. Fortunately, I have never had an experience with privacy invasion yet. But a man called Brian was not as lucky as me. The same study interviewed Brian about his story fighting with hackers (Debatin, Lovejoy, Horn & Hughes, 2009). Brian encountered the most extreme form of Facebook privacy invasion by having his profile hacked into multiple times, which twice led him to delete his profile, and to institute strict privacy settings. He was very upset about the incident that caused serious effects. Although I feel sorry for him, what I want to point out is that it is very interesting to see that Brian stayed with Facebook, and kept coming back to it again and again. This somehow illustrates that the benefits and gratifications from using Facebook as a social tool can overrule the effects of even extremely negative experiences.

I guess most people who experience intrusions like Brian did, would first restrict their privacy settings and then start to think about who was the perpetrator and why the intrusion was done. This illustrates out two different coping strategies. The technical strategy is to tighten the privacy settings; the psychological strategy is to integrate and transform the incidents into a meaningful and ultimately unthreatening context (Debatin, Lovejoy, Horn & Hughes, 2009). For those who even do not realize the risks related to privacy invasion, privacy education is needed.

Anyway, when it comes to online privacy issues, just think twice!



Joshua Fogela, Elham Nehmadb. Internet social network communities: Risk taking, trust, and privacy concerns. Computers in Human Behavior Volume 25, Issue 1, January 2009, Pages 153–160

Jones, H., & Soltren, J. H. (2005). Facebook: Threats to privacy. December 14, 2005

Bernhard Debatin, Jennette P. Lovejoy, Ann-Kathrin Horn M.A., Brittany N. Hughes. Facebook and Online Privacy: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Unintended Consequences. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication Volume 15, Issue 1, October 2009, Pages 83–108

Seounmi Youn. Determinants of Online Privacy Concern and Its Influence on Privacy Protection Behaviors Among Young Adolescents. Journal of Consumer Affairs Volume 43, Issue 3, Fall 2009, Pages 389–418

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