What percent of Facebook profiles are public?
May 25, 2011 4:03 AM   Subscribe

What percent of Facebook profiles are public? Trying to figure out why everyone talks about the danger of having your information visible online -- don't most people use privacy settings?
posted by lastwomanstanding to Technology (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You might find this Consumer Reports article helpful. "Consumer Reports says that one in four households with a Facebook account have users who aren’t aware of or don’t choose to use Facebook’s built-in privacy controls."

But which part of the profile do you mean, exactly? Your friends list? Status updates? Photos? Facebook's controls are pretty granular, so you can't just set your whole profile to "private" and be done with it. They have been widely decried as too confusing.

Part of the problem with Facebook in particular is that they're prone to changing your settings on you without notification. So you might opt out of, say, having your face shown on social ads to your friends, only to check the setting a few weeks later to find it's been reverted. And last year they quietly removed privacy controls from a lot of stuff you used to make private, like what pages you're a fan of.

Here for some scenarios where privacy over your information could be life-or-death from last year's Google Buzz fiasco.

But really, anyone who cracks different jokes in front of their friends as they would in front of their boss or mom should know why privacy matters, even aside from the abusive-ex, job-hunting, or having-an-affair scenarios -- social personas are just as important an issue as identity theft.
posted by Andrhia at 4:46 AM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

When I first got my facebook account several years ago, I could set my profile up so I wouldn't appear in searches at all. Then, they changed it so I would appear in searches, but without my profile picture appearing. Then, they changed it so I would appear with my profile picture, but you still couldn't click on my name and visit my profile. Then they changed it so you could search for me, see my picture, and visit my profile, but I could keep my profile effectively empty for strangers. Now, you can search for me, see my picture, visit my profile, see my friends, my interests, and who knows what else.

So, yes, I use privacy settings, and yes, I still worry about my information being visible online.
posted by that's how you get ants at 5:12 AM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Quite a lot about you can be gleaned from photos of you and comments you leave on the walls of your friends. Those friends may not use the same privacy settings as you do.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:18 AM on May 25, 2011

Some people just don't value their privacy much anymore, it seems. I hear people answering phone calls in public restrooms - it's like they think they should be completely accessible to everyone else on the planet at all times. Everything you do has to be shared, preferably with pictures. Wanting to keep things to yourself is seen as "having something to hide." Unless they get burned (like teachers being fired because of a picture some kid's parent didn't like), most people probably don't think that much about it.
posted by and miles to go before I sleep at 5:33 AM on May 25, 2011

Although I do not have an answer to your question you may find this infographic thought-provoking.
posted by saucysault at 6:26 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's also the friends-of-friends problem. People might choose that option thinking it offers protection (or it might be the default for some items? I don't know) but it just means that if a friend gives an app access to their profile, that app can now access your profile data too, without you giving it permission or even being aware of it. Or it means that someone that wants to be a creepy stalker now just has to convince one of your friends or coworkers to add them as a friend and now they can see all your personal info.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:44 AM on May 25, 2011

Yeah, it's less about my own privacy settings and more about the fact that I can't control Facebook or other users.

Anecdote: I am friendly with a number of clients for my job and usually happily accept their Facebook friend requests so we can keep in touch. However, I keep them on a limited profile -- they don't need to see my pictures of me singing karaoke at a friend's bachelorette party, or in my pajamas on Christmas with my family, or know what's going on with my romantic life. This especially came into play recently, when I began dating someone who worked with my client's organization. I very intentionally made sure that no information about my relationship status was visible to my clients because I didn't want any perceived conflict of interest -- or, for that matter, unprofessional personal comments about my love life from my client.

However. My boyfriend has a picture of the two of us as his profile picture. Fine, no big deal -- he has privacy settings too, he doesn't list his job/organization, and I knew my clients weren't Facebook friends with him. But what neither of us realized is that thanks to the relatively recent feature when Facebook picks friends to show up to the left of your profile when other people look at it, some algorithm either chooses friends in the same network, or just ranks them according to importance, and there was my boyfriend, with his nice big profile picture, always being displayed right at the top of the list and easily recognized by his coworkers.

So despite two allegedly locked down profiles, because of my boyfriend's profile picture selection and Facebook's random new friend display feature, something I completely intended to keep private ended up generating suggestive comments and teasing from professional contacts.
posted by olinerd at 6:50 AM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't know the numbers, but I used to hire college students for work-study jobs and I would look them up on facebook if I was on the fence about them, and I was very surprised by how much information they had up there for anyone to see. I probably wasn't seeing their full profiles but I was seeing very unprofessional stuff - photos of them drinking, lists of interests or "likes" that included gross and sketchy stuff, all sorts of things that I would rather not know about them.

And more than once I was able to use someone's facebook profile to find their non-school email addresses and cell phone number.
posted by mskyle at 6:57 AM on May 25, 2011

One "issue" I have run into is that no matter how much time I spend obsessing over the privacy settings for myself and my mother-in-law, they change so frequently that I can't keep up.

The friends-of-friends thing is the biggest "issue" for me, as others have said.

I put "issues" in quotes because my default motto for people who complain about Facebook is simply "you get what you pay for." (Facebook is free, obviously, thus are the "issues" really issues, or something you signed up for?)

In answering the asker's original question, I search my name on Google a couple of times a week (I use it to test tools where I work), and despite searching for myself that frequently, my own Facebook profile has never once come up during my searches. Of course you can find me from within Facebook, but I have not yet found myself outside of Facebook, no matter how often Facebook changes their default settings.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:10 AM on May 25, 2011

When I first got my facebook account several years ago, I could set my profile up so I wouldn't appear in searches at all. Then, they changed it ... Now, you can search for me, see my picture, visit my profile, see my friends, my interests, and who knows what else.

You can still lock all of that down. Go to Account -> Privacy Settings -> Connecting on Facebook (click View Settings). I have mine set so tightly that the other day someone was trying to add me as I was sitting next to her in a bar and she typed in my full name and could not find me in Facebook search at all. I had to look her up and send the friend request instead.

Honestly, I rarely have to think about my Facebook privacy settings. Sure, some options have changed over time but I can't remember the last time I had to worry about it. They are so granular that it can take some time to go through all the settings, but I think each setting is well enough explained that it's not really confusing so much as time consuming.

As to why people don't take advantage of them? Lack of awareness, lack of time to figure it out, the fact that the default settings are pretty open, or they just don't care what people see. Some people censor what they post so they don't have to lock things down. Some people use Facebook to connect with friends or business peers and want/need to be searchable.

According to Facebook in early 2010, about 35% of their users checked their privacy settings when prompted to do so by Facebook after the setting changes. They claim this is quite a success, and say that a typical engagement rate for users interacting with their settings is 5% to 10%.
posted by misskaz at 7:44 AM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just checked mine. Everything is set to "friends only" except for my mobile number which is set to "me only".

I have noticed that whenever I've gone browsing off into a random persons profile (for example, because they have started going out with a friend of mine and I'm being a little bit nosy) then more often than not they have left some personal information and a load of photos open for me to look at.

One nice thing that Facebook allows you to do is view your profile as someone else sees it. To do this, go into Account > Privacy Settings and then select "Customise settings". You'll find a big button at the top right titled "Preview my profile" which will show you how your profile looks to people who aren't your friends.
posted by mr_silver at 8:30 AM on May 25, 2011

I noticed the other day that my cousin has like 2000 friends. Because her picture is slightly slutty and she accepts EVERY friend request she gets. So her profile isn't technically public but her information is still out there available for basically anyone to see. Her address and phone number are posted. It freaks me out on an almost daily basis.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:12 AM on May 25, 2011

Honestly, I cannot be arsed to constantly keep checking what the hell is going on with the privacy settings these days. It seems like they change every week.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:15 AM on May 25, 2011

Keeping this intentionally vague, I know a guy who works as a software developer. The application he works on recently added the ability to log in using Facebook Connect. This guy was totally shocked at the amount of information his employer is able to gather from people who just log in using Facebook -- they have databases now full of friends lists and interests and so on.

So it's not just privacy settings, or what you can see on the website itself. There is a great deal of information from Facebook in the hands of pretty junior league companies.
posted by jess at 10:23 AM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

« Older What are the films in Prime Minister David...   |   Source a bafflingly eerie screencap? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.