Privacy and Information Sharing on Social Networking Sites

University essay from Lunds universitet/Institutionen för informatik

Abstract: Social networking sites are becoming more and more widely used, increasing their importance as vehicles for communication and collaboration. Due to this, a significant amount of information is shared on these sites, with considerable potential implications for the area of personal privacy. There have been reports that the users of these sites do not understand the potential harms of information-sharing. In our study, we examine individuals’ perceptions of privacy as they relate to these sites as well as how these perceptions differ between genders, age groups and geographical backgrounds. Using quantitative methods by surveying 240 individuals we find that they are, indeed, highly concerned about their privacy, both on the Internet and on SNS. Furthermore, even if they share a significant amount of information on these sites, they are both aware of and make use of the privacy settings available to them. However, we find that the terms and agreements and privacy policies pertaining to these sites are not important factors influencing the decision of whether or not to get involved in them. Our findings make us conclude that individuals are performing cost and benefit analyses related to their level of participation and information-sharing, in line with the social exchange theory. Our study also confirms that the phenomenon of information disclosure on SNS is to some extent associated with the user’s gender and age, as has been suggested in previous studies. However, we find differences concerning the specific characteristics of privacy awareness and privacy protection on SNS as compared to previous studies. Finally, we examine these areas with respect to geographical backgrounds, and discover differences not previously reported.

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