Pew: More People 'Unfriend,' Tighten Privacy Controls

privacy4A new Pew study finds people are increasingly pruning their online social networks and restricting access to their profiles in the wake of heightened privacy concerns. Nearly two-thirds (63%) have deleted people from friend lists, up from 56% in 2009.

A majority (58%) also limit access to their profiles so only friends can see them. Further, 44% deleted comments from their profiles, up from 36% in 2009, and 37% have removed their names from photos in which they were tagged, up from 30%.

Women are especially active in controlling their social media presence. For example, 67% of women have “unfriended” people in their network, and the same proportion have opted to set the highest privacy restrictions on their profiles. By contrast, only 48% of men have chosen the highest privacy settings. Men are also more likely than women to choose partially private or fully public settings.

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There is little difference in how people approach privacy in social media based on age. “When it comes to basic privacy settings, users of all ages are equally likely to choose a private, semi-private or public setting for their profile. There are no significant variations across age groups,” stated the report by Pew’s Internet &American Life Project.

Highlighting that consistency, 58% of adults set their profiles so that only friends can see content they post--slightly less than the 62% of teens who do so. So parents and their teen children are of the same mind at least when it comes to social privacy settings.

Like women, however, young adults were more assiduous than the general social networking population in culling friend lists and purging unwanted contacts. Among those 18-29, 71% have unfriended people compared to 63% of those 30-39 and 56% of people 50-64.

Removing photo tags and comments is also more common among young users. In the former case, half of the 18-29 demo have deleted tags while 56% have erased comments from their profiles. That suggests younger users are more concerned about “reputation management” on social properties. 

Facebook has run into trouble in the past for having overly complicated privacy settings that left users frustrated and confused. In that vein, the study found about half (48%) had some difficulty in managing the controls on their profiles. The other half said controls “were not difficult at all” and just 2% described them as “very difficult.”

Educated users were much more likely to report some challenges in managing their privacy controls. The majority (62%) of college graduates had some level of difficulty, compared to 42% of people with some college education. The Pew report noted that the complexity of privacy settings varies greatly across different social sites.

 While people are more actively curating their profiles, one in ten said they regret some of their own posts. Men are twice as likely to express misgiving about posts (15% versus 8%), and young adults are more likely than everyone else to regret oversharing, at a rate of 15%.

The Pew report also underscored how Facebook has become the dominant social network in the last three years. More than nine in ten (93%) profile owners say that they have a profile on Facebook, up from 73% in 2009. The study findings were based on phone interviews conducted from April 26 to May 22, 2011, among a sample of 2,277 adults.

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