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1 in 4 Facebook Users Clueless About Privacy

No, seriously. Consumer Reports’ Electronics Blog reports this week that Facebook users don’t seem to care that much about privacy. According to their National Research Center, 23% of Facebook users “either didn’t know that site offered privacy controls or chose not to use them.” 52% of social network users have risky information posted online.

I’m not sure what constitutes “risky information” according to Consumer Reports, but they do have some recommendations for Facebook privacy in next month’s magazine—which clearly aren’t written for people who work on the Internet. Or might have friends who aren’t already connected to mutual friends on Facebook—because following Consumer Reports’ recommendations will make it so only friends of your friends can find you on Facebook. So if you want to reconnect with that friend from college/HS/before, you’d better hope you already have a connection, or they aren’t quite as paranoid as you.

However, some of their suggestions are fairly common sense—like not announcing you’ll be away from your home for a month. (On the other hand, this also assumes that someone who knows you on Facebook and has your address will rob your house. As I’ve said before, that’s a pretty targeted effort for a crime that’s usually one of opportunity. On the other hand, 7% of Facebook users post their street address publicly on their profile, CNET reports.) But probably the best advice is to use the privacy controls the site features:

For almost everything in your Facebook profile, you can limit access to only your friends, friends of friends, or yourself. Restrict access to photos, birth date, religious views, and family information, among other things. You can give only certain people or groups access to items such as photos, or block particular people from seeing them. Consider leaving out contact info, such as phone number and address, since you probably don’t want anyone to have access to that information anyway.

(Okay, that might overstate things a little, too. Yes, I connected with my old friends on Facebook because I didn’t want them to have my contact information. Right.)

Consumer Reports is also worried about kids. 26% of parents have posted pictures of their children on Facebook, and 13% actually used their children’s names. CR says this might open children up to online predators. (Um, if you’ve already restricted your photos to friends only, how about defriending the online predators? Meanwhile, I veil my children’s faces in public and in photographs and always call them by fake names whenever we might be overheard.)

Of course, Facebook has faced a lot of opposition and privacy concerns, especially as they’ve made drastic, confusing changes to the way they handle user information. Possibly most disturbing is how third-party developers can access user information—and how little users understand about them, as CNET reports:

People who use Facebook games and apps also seem unaware of any potential risks. Of the adult Facebook users who played games and took quizzes on the site, 38 percent were either sure the apps were safe or hadn’t given it any thought. But over the past year, 9 percent of the social network users surveyed by Consumer Reports were hit by some type of online abuse, such as malware, scams, identify theft, or harassment.

If one in eleven of us has been the target of online abuse, you or at least one of your friends must be among them. You’d think more than 77% of users would be concerned.

The bottom line: you should definitely be familiar with the privacy controls on Facebook—and be careful what you post. But only you can decide what you’re comfortable with.

What do you think? Will Consumer Reports’ suggestions help keep you safe? Do you know someone who’s been the target of online abuse?