College Research Paper – Facebook Trust & Privacy by Ian Hunt

College Research Paper

This is an example of my work before going onto University. Although I received good marks for this at the time many of the examples conclusions and data is now dated having been superseded by Facebooks changes to Privacy settings/options. But the core research remains true ‘do you trust Facebook with your personal data’ ?


Trust and Privacy


Ian Hunt

Access to HE. Media Studies. CJC3FH001A
Unit Title: Independent Study HC7/3/WW/081 Course Tutor: Patrick Peiro.
Completed: 14th April 2010

College Research Paper


1.0 Introduction
1.1 Key Questions
2.0 Methods
2.1 Primary Research.
2.2 Facebook Privacy Questionnaires.
2.3 Internet research from Facebooks own Help and Information pages
2.4 Confirm the validity of information obtained on Facebooks pages from alternative Internet resources.
2.4 Privacy issues and guides sourced from Library sources.
3.0 Results & Discussions
3.1 Facebook a short History
3.2 Survey Results
3.3 News Media discussion on Privacy/Trust
4.0 Further Discussion & Conclusions
4.1 Privacy
4.11 Facebook Adverts
4.12 Facebook Applications and 3rd Party Applications
4.2 Trust
4.3 Recent Events Regarding Privacy
4.31 What has not changed?
4.4 Final conclusions
5.0 Bibliography
6.0 Appendix

List of illustrations’

Fig 1: Total Internet Usage
Fig 2: Targeted advertising
Fig 3: Advertising Demographics
Fig 4: Age related targeted advertising
Fig 5: Online gaming advertising
Fig 6: Facebook Applications and 3rd Party Applications
Fig 7: New Privacy Announcement
Fig 8: New Privacy Update
Fig 9: Privacy Sharing
Fig 10: Privacy Search

1.0 Introduction

Is the growth in Social Network websites a good thing? With new services from Google and Microsoft soon to join the established social networking sites Myspace, Twitter, Bebo, Plaxo and Facebook are users right to trust these companies (in all cases Global Corporations) with their personal data. What are these Social Networking sites using this data for now and what in the future could they do with this personal information.

There is also the question, is using a social networking site a good and safe use of your time on the internet? For instance 17% of all current usage on the Internet has been attributed in a recent Nielsen’s study (2009), to be on Social Networking and Blogging websites. Based on recent trends this usage is expected grow to as much as 50% within a year.

1.1 Key Questions

What are the risks of using Social Networking sites such as Facebook in regard to Privacy and Data Security?
Why do over 150 Million users [log in each and everyday, posting over 40 Million status updates, personal information, emails and online chat] trust Facebook with their personal data? Facebook Statistics. [Accessed December 2009]

To try and answer these questions and by narrowing down the subject by looking in more detail at Data Security and Privacy issues of one of the Social Network sites the research will be conducted upon Facebook. As Facebook is now the leading Social Networking site with the most users, now in excess of 350 million users (December 2009 figures).
What are, if any are the rewards in regard to Facebooks new Privacy features introduced in December 2009?

2.0 Methods

2.1    Primary research including personal experience of being a Facebook user, the interaction with a growing number of Facebook friends and by also drawing upon their experiences of being a Facebook user. Conducted through both informal and formal discussion groups and interviews.
2.2    The production of an Online Survey/Questionnaire using an external Website to gather data     on key Privacy and Trust issues.
2.3    Using the huge Resource which is the Internet. Research from Facebooks own Press,     Privacy and Statistics web pages.
2.4    Backup/Confirm the research conducted on Facebooks pages using other Media sources on     the Internet including the BBC, the Newspaper Media and the UK’s specialists Media pages.
2.5    Investigation from Library resources including books, journals and news articles.

3.0 Results

3.1 Facebook a short history

Facebook was started in February 2004 from a Harvard University dormitory by founders Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes and Eduardo Saverin. Funded initially by Peter Thiel a co-founder of PayPal is an Entrepreneur and Hedge fund manager who invested $500,000 in Facebook and currently sits on their board.
There were doubts surrounding the originality of Facebooks development following a claim from the founders of ConnectU citing Mark Zuckerberg of developing Facebook from their idea, an out of court settlement suspected of being in the region of $65 Million resolved this claim. By BRAD STONE – Facebook to Settle Thorny Lawsuit Over Its Origins. The New York Times – Published April 7, 2008, 8:46 am [Accessed December 2009]
Facebook is currently valued at $9.5 Billion having dropped to as low as $3.7 Billion at the start of the recession from a previous high valuation of $15 Billion placed upon it by Microsoft in 2007. Cade Metz. Facebook value plummets $5bn  [Accessed December 2009]
Within a year Facebook had grown to over a 1 million users in 2005 and today its membership stands at over 350 million based on login data collected within the last 30 days (at 15/12/2009). It has a global reach and holds the personal data of 100’s of millions of it’s users on its computers in Palo Alto California. Facebook Statistics. [Accessed December 2009]
Facebook’s global reach has not been welcomed by everyone with countries including China, Syria and Iran blocking access to the site. Some companies have also blocked access to the site to prevent workers from using their work time to update their Facebook status. By JPOST.COM STAFF.  Syrian gov’t blocks use of Facebook Jerusalem Post – Nov 24, 2007 11:05 | Updated Nov 24, 2007 11:59  [Accessed December 2009]
Facebook is still growing employing 1000’s across its offices both in USA and other locations across the World.
December 2009 Facebook introduces new Privacy settings allowing a user to personalise how and to who they share information with by adding individual privacy settings to the publisher box on your profile status and wall pages.
3.2 Survey results
Survey results were obtained from an online survey hosted on the Survey Monkey ( website over a 30 day period during November 2009. A link to the survey was also posted on Facebook’s wall and group pages. Link information was also emailed to personal contacts requesting them to go online and complete the survey.

Most of the survey results are evenly matched and therefore inconclusive but there are some very interesting results for example:

More than 75% of users surveyed have made changes to their privacy settings.
More than 85% have accepted friend requests from people they do not know.
More than 75% of users surveyed understood that Facebook and Third Party applications will have access to their personal details.
The new privacy settings have yet to convince users that Facebook is safer, with more than 75% still undecided.
Discussion: Looking at each of these key results in turn:-
The majority of Facebook users have made changes to their privacy settings from this we could suppose that they had reason to make these changes either because they had experienced a privacy issue that is an invasion of privacy or decided that certain data of a particular and personal nature should not generally be made available in the public domain.
Facebook users are very trusting people, accepting friend requests from people they do not really know, although in some of these cases the friend request is initiated by Facebook usually by stating this person is friends with other people they do know, belong to the same groups or are fans of the same pages or people etc.
Trust again must play an integral part to the decision made by such a high percentage of users allowing applications access to their personal data, even though users do not know what these companies who write these applications will do with the data.
The new privacy settings have yet to make an impact with users as they are so new, but this position may change in time as users become more familiar with the new privacy settings.

3.3 News media discussion on privacy/trust

Reporting in the Telegraph on the 8th September 2009 – In a recent address to students at Wakefield High School, Barak Obama said and I quote “be careful what you post on Facebook. Whatever you do, it will be pulled up later in your life”.
There are many examples and instances of an inappropriate posting on Facebook leading to an undesirable course of action for instance the loss of a job, a reason why you may not get that job or it can even lead to a criminal prosecution. It is accepted that there are Privacy issues regarding what information third parties can find out about individuals from their personal data when conducting a search of Facebook profiles, they may not even need to have to access your personal information just a wall post containing inappropriate data.
One recent example of an inappropriate posting involved a teenager who posted onto her Facebook profile one weekend describing her job as being ‘boring, boring, boring’ she was summarily dismissed on the following Monday, the company arguing that she was obviously unhappy in her present role.
A report in The Times (online edition) 27th August 2009, identifies a problem with Facebooks privacy issues regarding an Applications access to personal data. Previously 3rd party Applications allowed by the user would have access to all the personal data held by the user on Facebook. In the face of pressure Facebook has agreed to improve security and force Applications to list what data they will access for instance birthday, geographical location etc. Future Privacy options will allow the user to set and restrict what data the Application will have access to.
From the above Media reports it is obvious that there is more than some concern about Facebook in particular, this combined with the overall concerns everyone has including Governments in regard to data security and privacy on the Internet. But it is Facebook which holds so much personal data and makes this data available in the public domain that catches the Medias interest the most, as they wait for the next big Privacy issue to unfold.

4.0 Conclusions

4.1 Privacy

4.11 Facebook Adverts

In November 2007 Facebook ads are introduced, targeting Facebookers with advertising drawn from the Facebookers own personal information. In operation there are similarities to the advertising model that Google uses that is Adwords. These adverts appear to the right of the home and profile pages; in fact they appear on most pages now growing as more tabs are added to the profile page. The adverts also change as the page is refreshed or by switching between tabs and pages.

It is this introduction of Facebook Ads which best highlights what Facebook is using a Facebookers data for and of course invading their privacy. The advertising is targeted to an individual’s personal information, their interests and even what their interests their friends list on their own profiles. For example if it listed on a profile that the user is single the advertising proliferates with offers from dating and matchmaking sites offering to find the user the partner of their dreams. Changing relationship details to any of the other options e.g. ‘In a relationship, Married etc. these adverts seem to magically disappear from a Facebookers profile and home pages.
Another example of targeted advertising is based on a Facebookers interests listed in their profiles, for example having website design listed as an interest the Facebooker could see advertising for web hosting and related web services for example books on website design.

But the most interesting use of data is that which is based upon a profiles age; if the Facebooker is for instance over a certain age the targeted advertising offers services such as laser eye correction, health insurance, sites offering mature singles matching (provided a users marital status is listed as single) and so on. Younger Facebook users see different targeted advertising to match their profile age. The targeted advertising now offers the sort of services the younger Facebookers are looking for such as online gaming, music events, the sale of CD’s and DVD’s etc.

Advertising an Invasion of Privacy. Referring to an article in The Times Online of 4th April 2008, Beacon an advertising tool which monitored Facebook users purchasing habits and then promoted this information to a Facebookers friends and others within their networks. This at the time immediately prompted invasion of privacy complaints and was quickly withdrawn. Although now withdrawn Facebook has not ruled out introducing a similar tool in the future although they have said they will be more cautious about introducing this in the future. The question left hanging here is have they already introduced another advertising and purchases monitoring tool without disclosure to Facebook users?

4.12    Facebook Applications and 3rd Party Applications

Facebook lists over 350,000 applications running on its platform with 250 having a million active monthly users. There are over a Million developers in over 180 countries and quote individuals and entrepreneurs’ developing applications, games, surveys and groups for the Facebook platform.
On the preceding page there is an example of the authorisation screen a Facebooker sees when adding an application or game to their profile, they are essentially allowing a third party access to both their own and their friends personal information and at the same time releasing Facebook from any responsibility for breaches in privacy and related issues under their Terms and Conditions.

4.2 Trust

Research leads to the belief that only time will tell us if these Social Networking sites are a good thing or something to be very wary off in regard to both Privacy issues and trust in them to protect an individual’s personal data. There are as many positives as there are negatives to using Facebook or indeed any social networking site. The users have to trust Facebook not to misuse the data they hold on their users and to manage the data responsibly and to continually enhance the security of their systems. Should they break or lose that trust then the whole fabric of the social networking media may well collapse and with it the fortunes of the companies themselves, the entrepreneurs and the investors that have invested time and money into Facebook and for the businesses that are built on the back of the Facebook platform and which of course generates their income and profits.

4.3 Recent events regarding privacy

Facebook changes its policy on Privacy putting the emphasis on creating individual settings for privacy. Thus allowing the user to decide who will see what information depending on which option they select when posting to a wall etc.

This was introduced soon after every user received an open letter from the Founder Mark Zuckerman announcing the move away from the original network model of friends and regional networks to this new privacy control method based on individual privacy settings.

As a user you now have the option of setting privacy settings for wall posts pictures and videos that you upload or link to on Facebook.
A small padlock has appeared next to the share button clicking on this will allow the user to set who can see the information they are posting onto their pages be it ‘Everyone’, ‘Friends of Friends’, Only Friends’ or ‘Customise’.

The main Privacy page has also been updated see Fig.8 this allows the user to either keep their original settings or to make changes. As this process is still being rolled out in stages some of the Privacy options are still being made available and are likely to change but initial changes seem to be going someway to resolving some of the privacy issues identified. One of the biggest is the move away from regional networks.
Joining a regional network in the past meant that technically you were sharing information freely with other members of that network. Bearing in mind that many networks contained thousands of members it would have been impossible to control which users had access to your information. Another benefit is marketing to large groups or people via a network is now not possible nor is searching for individuals within a network and so some measure privacy from marketers and possibly undesirable researchers are now blocked from finding you.
Referring back to the results of the online survey that is question 9, Facebook users appear to remain unconvinced whether their personal data is now safer under the new privacy controls than it was under the old system.
The new Privacy settings appear to resolve many of the issues that have been identified both by Facebook themselves, the external Press and some Governments etc. but there still remains many Privacy issues that will always be difficult to resolve and those are the ones that are left in control of the user. For instance referring back to the survey results more than 85% of users have accepted friend requests from people they do not know. With this in mind the majority of users are still allowing access to their personal data to unknown individuals or possibly companies posing as friends.

4.31 What has not changed?

What has not changed with the introduction of these new privacy settings is your agreement with Facebook on what they are able to use your data for.
For example Facebook state that some categories of data i.e. your name, a profile photo, your gender, friends and pages you are a fan of, where you live that is geographic region, and networks you belong to are considered publicly available to everyone, this includes Facebook applications, and therefore do not have privacy settings.’
With this in mind the change in Privacy settings seems somewhat irrelevant as the data which an individual would want to protect is not covered by this publicly available agreement, although you are able to control access to this information in the public domain by setting the search parameters in privacy settings.

Search Engines also have access to the Facebook site although Facebook does say that they limit this access to only the publicly available information that is held on you.
Facebook also states that in your agreement with them that should the company be sold or there is a change of ownership they will transfer your data to the new owner so that the business i.e. Facebook would continue to operate subject to existing Privacy agreements.

4.4 Final conclusions

In conclusion the only real way to protect personal data is down to the individual Facebook user being aware of the dangers of sharing and making personal data available in the public domain. For instance if the Facebook user does not put the information up on Facebook then the data is not there to be found. By limiting and controlling this information/data they are restricting what companies, individuals and organisations can learn about them the user, protecting their privacy and avoiding possibilities of identity theft etc.
Privacy controls on the internet are only as good as the designer can make them at the time and there any number of individual’s and organisations either legally or illegally seeking ways around these controls to data mine the information they want.
It is not in the interest of the user to supply in the public domain specific information such as exact date of birth, full address details or indeed their personal email address. It would be better to limit information to the correct day and month for birthdays but change the year + or – a year and in the case of geographic location certainly not supply a full home address. Finally it is easy to open a webmail address and so the user would be best advised to open one just for Facebook.
There is no doubt that 350 Million users put a lot of Trust in Facebook and it’s ability to protect a users Privacy and Facebook needs to continually evolve introducing greater Privacy controls in order to be able to continue to ensure the Privacy of this data. For should they fail in this then the very idea of Social Networking itself may fail, losing the Trust of millions of users across the globe and the eventual failure of the business.


Primary Sources
Facebook Users Online Survey and Questionnaire
Ian Hunt, The Hunt Family, Fabiene Barber, Carolyn Castagnari, Stella James and others.

Secondary Sources
Councils ban Facebook – 12:17 GMT, Tuesday, 1 September 2009 [Accessed December 2009]

Facebook pages
Press [Accessed December 2009]
Statistics [Accessed December 2009]
Timeline [Accessed December 2009]
Safety [Accessed December 2009]

Facebook press release – $200 Million investment in Facebook – Digital Sky Technologies [Accessed December 2009]

Cade Metz. Facebook value plummets $5bn [Accessed December 2009]

By JPOST.COM STAFF  Syrian gov’t blocks use of Facebook
Jerusalem Post – Nov 24, 2007 11:05 | Updated Nov 24, 2007 11:59 [Accessed December 2009]

By Lester Haines – Teen sacked for ‘boring’ job Facebook comment
Posted in Bootnotes, 26th February 2009 15:54 GMT [Accessed December 2009]

Nielsen report unattributed [Accessed December 2009]

By BRAD STONE – Facebook to Settle Thorny Lawsuit Over Its Origins
The New York Times – Published April 7, 2008, 8:46 am [Accessed December 2009]

Barack Obama gives Facebook advice ahead of education speech
Telegraph – Published: 10:02PM BST 08 Sep 2009 [Accessed December 2009]

Times Online August 27, 2009
Facebook to tighten privacy policies and give users more control over personal data [Accessed December 2009]

Times Online April 4, 2008
Q&A: Chris Kelly, chief privacy officer of Facebook [Accessed December 2009]

Vander Veer, E.A. 2008. O’Reilly Media Inc. Facebook the Missing Manual. California:
Abraham, C and Pearlman, L. 2008. Wiley Publishing Inc. Facebook for Dummies. Indiana:

6.0 Appendix

The following pages are offered in support to the data, results and conclusions contained in the research project.