Facebook privacy settings: Who cares?

Authors: danah boyd and Eszter Hargittai

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Citation: boyd, d. & Hargittai, E. (2010). Facebook privacy settings: Who cares? First Monday. 15(8)


With over 500 million users, the decisions that Facebook makes about its privacy settings have the potential to influence many people. While its changes in this domain have often prompted privacy advocates and news media to critique the company, Facebook has continued to attract more users to its service. This raises a question about whether or not Facebook’s changes in privacy approaches matter and, if so, to whom. This paper examines the attitudes and practices of a cohort of 18– and 19–year–olds surveyed in 2009 and again in 2010 about Facebook’s privacy settings. Our results challenge widespread assumptions that youth do not care about and are not engaged with navigating privacy. We find that, while not universal, modifications to privacy settings have increased during a year in which Facebook’s approach to privacy was hotly contested. We also find that both frequency and type of Facebook use as well as Internet skill are correlated with making modifications to privacy settings. In contrast, we observe few gender differences in how young adults approach their Facebook privacy settings, which is notable given that gender differences exist in so many other domains online. We discuss the possible reasons for our findings and their implications.


  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Facebook's history with privacy
  • User practices and Facebook’s privacy options
  • Research questions
  • Data and methods
  • Facebook use
  • Experiences with privacy settings
  • Confidence in managing privacy settings
  • Discussion and conclusion


The authors appreciate the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for making this project possible. They are also indebted to Microsoft Research New England and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society for enabling work on this project. They thank the helpful assistance of Ericka Menchen–Trevino, Cassi Saari and the group of undergraduate and graduate research assistants in the Web Use Project lab during the 2008–09 and 2009–10 academic years for data collection and data entry. The authors also thank A. George Bajalia for input on the paper, Amanda Lenhart and Mary Madden for inspiration, and Ann Feldman, Tom Moss, and Karen Mossberger for their support

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