Half of all U.S. residents who have a profile on a social-networking site are concerned about their privacy, according to a recent poll by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, and close to half of that group described themselves as “very concerned.” Fears about the issue of privacy on social networks increased as the age of the survey respondent went up, the institute said (only 43 percent of those between 18 and 29 said they were concerned, compared with 63 percent of those over 60). Women were also more concerned about the issue than men: over 57 percent of the women who took the survey said they had some anxiety about privacy, compared with 43 percent of the men.
The survey’s results certainly jibe with my experience, which is largely anecdotal. Many of my older relatives seem very concerned about the risks of putting even a small amount of information about themselves online in any form, whereas my teenaged daughters see it as simply a fact of life. They are aware of the dangers, but likely wouldn’t describe themselves as concerned or anxious.
It wasn’t clear whether the institute’s results were affected by news reports involving privacy-related issues affecting Facebook and Google, of which there have been many over the past six months. Facebook has been the target of class-action lawsuits and requests for an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission over the changes it made to its privacy settings earlier this year, and Google has also been the target of criticism from both the government and from privacy advocates about privacy settings in its Buzz service as well as privacy-related issues involving the company’s Street View photography service.
Almost half of those surveyed by the Marist institute — 43 percent from a sample size of 1,004 residents surveyed by telephone — said that they have a profile on a site like Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. The institute found that 40 percent of men have a profile on a social network (up from 36 percent in December) while 45 percent of women surveyed have one, which they described as a way to keep in touch with family and friends. Almost 80 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 had a social-networking profile, compared with just 19 percent of those 60 years of age and older.
An unrelated poll by the web security company Webroot found that more than half of those who use location-based services such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt are worried about their privacy. Almost 40 percent of those surveyed said they had used geolocation-based features on their cellphones. The survey also found that nearly 25 percent of those who responded had been the victims of a “phishing” attempt to steal their social network password, and 16 percent had reported a malware infection in the past year that originated from a social networking site.
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