February 22, 2012, 4:38 PM

Facebook users are sharing less data about themselves

Privacy concerns lead consumers to limit what strangers can see, a study says.

Zak Stambor

Managing Editor

Lead Photo

Consumers on Facebook are hiding more information from other users—and potentially marketers—on the social network, according to a new report by two graduate students at the Leonard J. Shustek Professor of Computer Science at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.

The report is based on a study of public profiles from 1.4 million Facebook members. The researchers used information from the public profiles to draw conclusions about Facebook users' privacy preferences.

One way shoppers are guarding their privacy is by limiting who can see their connections on the social network. 53% of the Facebook users analyzed opted to make their friend list private in June 2011, the study says, up from the 17% that had private friend lists in May 2010.

Consumers also chose to increasingly shield other aspects of their Facebook profiles. 33% of consumers in June 2011 hid from public view their ages, high school names and graduation years, network and groups (such as alumni associations), relationship status, genders, interests, hometowns and current cities. That’s up from 12% in 2010.

The researchers found that 55% of women restricted their personal information, compared to 49% of men. 

Between the two dates analyzed, Facebook simplified and standardized its privacy settings, which may have contributed to shoppers increasingly shielding their information, says report author Keith Ross. “We believe that greater sensitivity and public awareness of privacy issues, combined with easier privacy options on Facebook, spurred more members to protect their information," he says.

Consumers can adjust their privacy settings in a number of ways on the social network, including opting out of allowing Facebook to use a consumer’s actions in its Sponsored and Featured Stories ad formats. Those formats enable companies to pay to highlight posts or actions that a consumer’s Facebook friend has made that relate to the advertiser.

The findings come as consumers have more ways than ever to share data on Facebook. Consumers can post content, check in at a bricks-and-mortar store, Like a product and even click that they Own or Want an item. And every time a consumer interacts with an application, or anything else on the social network, he is providing data that marketers can increasingly leverage to target that consumer with an ad.

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