REPORT: Let Facebook Users Rate Each Privacy Setting

Columbia University suggests Facebook should allow users to prioritize how important different privacy settings are.

Facebook users’ continued resistance to the site’s very robust privacy customization options shows up in countless surveys about privacy concerns on the social network, often without guidance on how to better educate people about their options.

Columbia University, however, does offer some suggestions to Facebook as part of the conclusions to a privacy study. Perhaps these recommendations would hold more meaning if this prestigious institution surveyed more than just 65 people before concluding that Facebook’s privacy settings are inherently flawed.

We continue to argue that the solution to this lies in the overwhelming need to educate users and also motivate them to use the settings.

However, we like this part of the report:

The results of our study suggest ternary privacy settings may be useful. Participants were given a sharing choice of show, hide, or apathetic for each information type and pro le group pair. The participants selected apathetic more often than anticipated. The accuracy of privacy settings may be improved if users were given an apathetic or “don’t care” option. Future work should further investigate the implications of an apathetic
option.

The report found that all of the respondents have experienced at least one sharing violation that seemed to defy what they indicated in their privacy settings — either revealing something they wanted to hide or vice versa.

According to the study, part of the problem is rooted in the fact that Facebook relies on data types to determine default settings; in other words, using the format of the information to dictate privacy guidelines, as opposed to the actual content. Another hurdle exposed by the study suggests a disconnect in terms of user awareness when Facebook introduces new privacy policies and features, as well as confusion over how to change, control, and monitor their own settings.

We appreciate, however, that the researchers concede that they could probably do more research on the subject, which makes sense when you’re taking people’s word for something that might actually mean they don’t understand how to use something.

Readers, would you say that you underutilize the privacy settings on the site? Would you use them more if they were simpler, or should there be even more options than currently available?

Note: Jackie Cohen infused this post with commentary.