This study was conducted in 2005 at Carnegie Mellon University by Ralph Gross and Alessandro Acquisti in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
This study is relevant to the FTC v Facebook 2011 case because it shows how users already willingly provided an alarming amount of personal, and even sensitive, information.
The entire Facebook population at CMU (4,540 profiles) was included in this study.
It is important to note that the popularity and size of social networks have increased dramatically since the study was conducted.
The point of the study was to evaluate college student’s online behavior on social networking sites, including how much information they made available on their profiles and how they use sites’ privacy settings.
Results show possible dangers and breaches of privacy, and that only a small percentage users modify settings to protect their privacy.
39.9% of users provided their phone number on their profiles. 50.8% provided their current residence. 87.8% provided their date of birth.
89 out of a sample of 100 profiles used the real, full name of the user.
A Facebook user’s affiliation with another user is divided into 4 different categories: friends, friends of friends, non-friend users at the same institution, and non-friend users at a different institution.
The population of Facebook users we have studied is, by large, quite oblivious, unconcerned, or just pragmatic about their personal privacy” (Gross and Acquisti 8).
Although privacy settings are able to be modified, they rarely are. An overwhelming majority of users keep what the study calls the default permeable privacy settings.
The personal information users are revealing even on sites with access control and managed search capabilities effectively becomes public data” (Gross and Acquisti 9).
Gross, R., Acquisti, A., & Heinz, H. J. (2005). Information revelation and privacy in online social networks. Proceedings of the 2005 ACM Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society - WPES '05. doi:10.1145/1102199.1102214
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