STUDY: Facebook, Other Social Networks Not Trusted When Sharing Private information

By David Cohen 

PewPrivacyPerceptionsChart650Facebook and other social networks did not fare well in a new study on public perceptions of privacy from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, as 81 percent of respondents said they felt “not very” or “not at all secure” using social media sites when sharing private information with other trusted people or organizations.

Advertising also took an indirect hit, as Pew found that 91 percent of respondents “agree” or “strongly agree” that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.

Pew also found that 64 percent of respondents believe government should do more to regulate what advertisers do with customers’ personal information, while 34 percent did not feel that the government should get more involved.

One positive statistic for Facebook and other social networks: 55 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree with this statement: “I am willing to share some information about myself with companies in order to use online services for free.”


Pew offered more details of how respondents viewed social media:

American adults view social media sites as the least secure channel to communicate private information to another trusted person or organization; just 2 percent view them as “very secure,” while 14 percent feel “somewhat secure” sharing sensitive information on social media. Just over one in four (28 percent) feel “not very secure” sharing private information on social media and 53 percent say they feel “not at all secure.”

Men and women are equally wary of using social media sites to share private information, but those over the age of 30 are more likely than young adults to feel as though the sites are “not at all secure.” Over one-half of adults ages 30 and older (57 percent) report this lack of confidence, compared with 37 percent of those ages 18 through 29.

In terms of education-related differences, college grads are generally less confident in the use of social media for sharing private information; 64 percent of adults who have a college degree feel “not at all secure” sharing sensitive information over social media channels, compared with 47 percent of those who have not attended college.

Those who have heard a lot about government surveillance are more likely to view social media sites as “not at all secure” when compared with those who have lower levels of awareness (61 percent versus 50 percent).

Similarly, 80 percent of social networking site users on the panel say that they are at least somewhat concerned about third parties such as advertisers or businesses accessing some of the information they share on those sites without their knowledge; this includes 35 percent who say they are “very concerned” and 45 percent who say they are “somewhat concerned.” Another 17 percent say they are “not too concerned,” and just 2 percent say they are “not at all concerned.” In contrast to many other questions in the survey, there were only minor variations by age, education or household income.


Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project senior researcher Mary Madden said in a release announcing the study’s findings:

One of the most notable findings in the study is that those who have heard the most about government surveillance are more privacy-sensitive across an array of questions in the survey. Those who are more aware of the monitoring programs feel considerably less secure using any communications channel to share private information.

Internet & American Life Project director and study co-author Lee Rainie added:

Far from being apathetic about their privacy, most Americans say they want to do more to protect it. It’s also clear that different types of information elicit different levels of sensitivity among Americans.

Broken trust image courtesy of Shutterstock.