(Photo : Creative Commons/Erik Derr)
Regardless how much people complain about Facebook's privacy policies and fear the social giant's mining their private information, users of the network are sharing more than ever about themselves, according to a seven-year study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.
Conducted from 2005-2011, the study marked the first effort to document how privacy and disclosure evolve on social network sites over an extended period of time.
Titled "Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook," the study examines data from a panel of 5,076 Facebook users collected from Facebook's early days. Findings from the study were published in The Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality.
Researchers observed that from 2005-2009, Facebook users seemed more interested in seeking online privacy, at the same time decreasing the amount of personal data shared they shared with the public.
But, between 2009 and 2010, that trend towards greater online privacy security reversed when changes implemented by Facebook, including modifications to its user interface and default settings, was followed by a dramatic uptick by users publicly sharing various forms of personal information.
The research team also noted that the amount and scope of personal information Facebook users revealed to their Facebook "friends" increased over time.
Therefore, users ended up making more disclosures of personal information to other entities on the network --- including "silent listeners," such as Facebook itself, third-party applications and advertisers.
"These findings highlight the tension between privacy choices as expressions of individual subjective preferences and the role of the network environment in shaping those choices," said study co-author Alessandro Acquisti, an associate professor of information technology and public policy at CMU. "While people try to take control of their personal information, the network keeps changing, affecting their decisions and changing their privacy outcomes."
Study co-author, CMU researcher Fred Stutzman, stated that the research illustrates "the challenges social network users face when trying to manage online privacy, the power of social media providers to affect their disclosure and privacy behavior, and the potential limits of notice and consent mechanisms."
The study concludes that while increased access to personal settings on their individual network pages has left users with a greater sense of online control and security, there are still a growing number of ways outside sources --- strangers --- can get their hands on personal information.