Privacy controls on Facebook impact user behaviour: study

HOUSTON : Facebook users increased their use of wall posts and reduced sending private messages after the social networking site made changes to its privacy controls, a new study has found.
The study by the researchers at the Naveen Jindal School of Management in the US assessed the impact of Facebook’s granular privacy controls and its effects on user disclosure behaviour.
“People have different views on the value of privacy controls in managing disclosures and therefore privacy dangers,” said Huseyin Cavusoglu, associate professor at Naveen Jindal School of Management in the US.
“Some people argue that giving users more granular controls mitigates privacy issues because users can effectively limit the recipients of shared content, thereby increasing the secrecy of disclosures,” said Cavusoglu.
“On the contrary, other people claim that users perceive privacy risks less severely when they have more controls to exercise, and as a result, share more content publicly, thereby increasing the openness of disclosures,” Cavusoglu added.
The researchers used data obtained from Facebook to test the relationship between privacy controls and disclosure patterns of Facebook users based on two popular content-sharing activities: wall posts and private messages.
In December 2009, Facebook gave users additional options to manage privacy by introducing granular controls to set access permissions for wall posts on a per-post basis.
The researchers developed a model to characterise the impact of granular privacy controls on sharing behaviour.
They hypothesised that as users gain more control over sharing of wall posts, they will customise the audience for some wall posts and consequently will share more content through wall posts and less through private messages.
Results show that Facebook users, on average, increased their use of wall posts and decreased their use of private messages in periods after the change in privacy controls. These effects took place immediately and lasted over time.
The researchers also introduced a metric, called the disclosure index, that quantifies the openness of disclosure patterns based on the relative levels of wall posting and private messaging.
The study showed that user’s disclosure patterns reflected increased openness in content sharing after the introduction of enhanced privacy controls.
However, different groups of users respond to the new policy in opposite ways, Cavusoglu said.
“What we found is that users who are more privacy conscious started to share more content via wall posts and less content via private messages after the change, possibly because they are the people who are likely to use the enhanced privacy controls and therefore benefit from them. As a result, the openness of their disclosure increased,” he said.
The study was published in the journal Information Systems Research. (AGENCIES)


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