Facebook Users' Privacy Concerns Up Since 2011

Facebook Users' Privacy Concerns Up Since 2011

Facebook Users' Privacy Concerns Up Since 2011

The FINANCIAL -- As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress about his company's efforts to protect user privacy, U.S. Facebook users are increasingly concerned about invasion of privacy when using the social media site. Currently, 43% of Facebook users are very concerned about their privacy being invaded, up from 30% in a January 2011 Gallup poll.

The latest results are based on an April 2-8, 2018, Gallup poll of 785 Facebook users, defined as those who have their own Facebook page. Overall, 56% of U.S. adults say they have a Facebook page, up from 43% in 2011.

Zuckerberg's appearance on Capitol Hill comes as his company is dealing with the revelation that information from an estimated 87 million Facebook users was shared with a political data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica, in violation of Facebook's data sharing policies. The social media company has also been scrutinized for the spread of misleading stories and ads on its platform during the 2016 presidential election campaign, including by interests outside the U.S.

Such incidents likely contribute to the growing concern among Facebook users about invasion of privacy. In addition to the 43% very concerned about the matter, another 31% say they are somewhat concerned, resulting in a total of 74% at least somewhat concerned, up from 65% seven years ago.

Heightened concern about invasion of privacy when using Facebook is evident among most key subgroups of Facebook users, but particularly older and upper-income users. A gap between older and younger users has emerged, with 52% of those 50+ saying they are very concerned about privacy, compared with 39% of those 18 to 49.

A separate question, asked for the first time this year, finds 55% of Facebook users saying they are very concerned and 25% somewhat concerned about their personal information being sold to and used by other companies and organizations.

Google Users Also More Concerned About Invasion of Privacy

Although privacy breaches affecting Facebook users have gotten a great deal of news attention lately, Google users are also more likely now than in 2011 to say they are very concerned about invasion of privacy when using Google. Currently, 35% of Google users, up from 25% in 2011, are very concerned about invasion of privacy when using that platform.

Still, Facebook users remain more concerned about invasion of privacy when using Facebook than Google users do when using Google, 43% to 35%. The gap between Facebook and Google has expanded slightly since 2011, from five percentage points to eight points.

Google users are, however, no less likely than Facebook users to be concerned about having their personal information sold to and used by other companies and organizations. Fifty-seven percent of Google users are very concerned about this, compared with 55% of Facebook users.

Overall, 74% of U.S. adults currently say they use Google in a typical week, up from 60% in 2011.

U.S. adults who use both Facebook and Google express greater concern with invasion of privacy on Facebook (42%) than on Google (33%). A similar gap existed in 2011, 29% to 21%.

Implications

Technological advances have greatly improved Americans' ability to find information and stay in touch with friends and family. While firms such as Facebook and Google provide these services for free, their financial viability depends on their ability to sell their users' data to advertisers and marketers. Those activities, and the kinds of information they share, are spelled out in their terms of service, although it is unclear how familiar users are with those and to what extent they are concerned with particular aspects of them.

Facebook does allow researchers access to personal data to use in academic study but does not permit the data to be sold or transferred to be used in targeting users, as occurred in the Cambridge Analytica case. Moreover, only a small fraction of the users whose personal information was acquired by Cambridge Analytica authorized giving those data to a third party. Facebook CEO Zuckerberg will attempt to convince Congress, as well as Americans more broadly, that his company takes the risks to privacy seriously and has the will and the means to protect Facebook users' privacy. If he is not able to convince Congress of that, the calls for regulation of major internet companies like Facebook and Google will likely increase.