Has Mark Zuckerberg done us wrong by tempting us to overshare? Consumer Reports thinks so.
The folks at Consumer Reports called up over 1,300 households using Facebook and have produced a doozy of a report on how Americans are using the world’s favorite social network. Applying the survey findings for the 1,300 folks they called to Facebook’s 150+ million American users, Consumer Reports paternalistically says:
Some people are sharing too much. Our projections suggest that 4.8 million people have used Facebook to say where they planned to go on a certain day (a potential tip-off for burglars) and that 4.7 million “liked” a Facebook page about health conditions or treatments (details an insurer might use against you).
Being public about your health conditions on Facebook could indeed be a bad idea. I am perplexed but impressed by the nearly 4,000 brave and candid souls who have “liked” the Herpes Simplex virus on Facebook. But talking about your conditions and treatments publicly can also be a positive thing. Journalists like Susannah Breslin and Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin have been very public recently about their breast cancer diagnoses. Breslin has written here at Forbes about it, while Jardin tweets regularly about her chemo sessions and their side effects, and even shaved the hair off her Twitter avatar. It’s obvious that, to them, the community support and catharsis of talking about their experiences outweighs the potential backlash from insurers or employers.
And the good news here, if you do deem sharing health problems to be a bad idea, is that 4.7 million of 150+ million users is just 3% of Facebook users. That’s a fairly small percentage.
As to the “potential tip offs for burglars,” c’mon, hysterical media! Let’s stop chastising people for talking about their day plans. There’s been just one news report thus far about burglars using Facebook as a tip-off for home robberies. In New Hampshire back in 2010, a ring of burglars robbed people who mentioned vacation plans in Facebook status updates. Later reports suggested that the burglars were actually Facebook friends with the people they robbed. This was a small blip on a rather big radar.
Even those people who aren’t on social media are at risk of being robbed on a regular basis: From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday, when robbers know most people’s homes are usually abandoned thanks to the demands of work and school. That’s when my house got robbed when I was a kid.
Let’s not call people stupid or upbraid them for “sharing too much” for talking about “where they plan to go on a certain day.” Facebook and Foursquare are far from the only ways to find out that people aren’t home. That said, it’s probably wise not to talk about your vacation plans until you’ve returned from that long trip.
More from Consumer Reports:
Some don’t use privacy controls. Almost 13 million users said they had never set, or didn’t know about, Facebook’s privacy tools. And 28 percent shared all, or almost all, of their wall posts with an audience wider than just their friends.
As Anne Collier points out at Net Family News, that’s actually good news. “The watchdog says its survey found that 13 million people don’t use the site’s privacy controls, a scarier-sounding way of saying that only 9% of CR’s estimate of 150 million FB users in the us don’t use them, which means that the vast majority of the site’s users – 91% – do use its privacy controls,” writes Collier. Kudos to you who have actually fiddled with your privacy settings!
And problems are on the rise. Eleven percent of households using Facebook said they had trouble last year, ranging from someone using their log-in without permission to being harassed or threatened. That projects to 7 million households—30 percent more than last year.
Sociologist Mike Males, a senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, took issue with this one. “They don’t define what counts as ‘being harassed,'” says Males. “How can anyone go a whole year on Facebook without encountering any negative comments?”