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Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook: Youth & Adults’ Information Disclosure and Perceptions of Privacy Risks

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University of Guelph




This reports outlines a study of information disclosure and privacy on Facebook among high school aged youth and working adults. The study is the first to explore these issues in a sample of respondents selected from outside of a University student population. In addition, the report provides information about specific individual factors that predict the extent of disclosure and use of the privacy settings on Facebook. The researchers offer recommendations for increasing awareness and educating the public about protecting privacy on Facebook.

Key Findings:

  • Despite popular perceptions that it is young people who disclose a considerable amount of information online, our study suggests that youth and adults are similar in their disclosure behaviors on Facebook. However, adults are more likely than youth to report using the privacy settings on Facebook.
  • While the majority of respondents from both the study’s youth and adult samples reported knowing how to use Facebook’s privacy settings, a significantly smaller proportion of individuals from both groups reported actually using these settings.
  • In both samples, respondents who reported having higher need for popularity and less awareness of the consequences of information sharing were more likely to disclose information about themselves on Facebook.
  • Awareness of the consequences of personal disclosure was the strongest predictor of using the privacy settings on Facebook. This pattern was similar for both youth and adults.
  • Respondents in the youth sample who reported having a bad experience on Facebook were more likely to control their information through use of the privacy settings.

Recommendations for Education:

  • Efforts should be made to provide adults with better knowledge about some of the features of Facebook so they can provide more guidance to their children about Facebook privacy settings. Doing so would also enable adults with the tools to monitor their children’s use of Facebook.
  • Strategies should focus on increasing awareness about the consequences of disclosing information, as this was a strong predictor of both information disclosure and control among youth and adults.
  • Education campaigns for youth should include strategies for dealing with negative situations on Facebook (i.e., cyberbullying, harassment), both in terms of prevention and management.
  • All Facebook users should be educated about how to use and regularly monitor their privacy settings. This education campaign should include cautionary statements regarding the selection of “friends” and how a person’s Facebook profile appears to other Facebook users.

Recommendations for Policy:

  • Work with online social network sites, such as Facebook, to develop privacy settings and terms of use that are accessible to the youngest potential users.
  • Establish mechanisms by which Facebook users have more control over the information that other users post about them.
  • Develop education and awareness campaigns that encourage users to read the privacy settings and that encourage parents to educate their children about online privacy.
  • Advocate for school programs that educate youth about online privacy and the consequences of disclosure.

This document is available in the following language(s):

English only

OPC Funded Project

This project received funding support through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The opinions expressed in the summary and report(s) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Summaries have been provided by the project authors. Please note that the projects appear in their language of origin.

Contact Information

50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1
Tel: (519) 824-4120

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