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Lawyers.com Survey: Privacy Concerns Inconsistent with Actual Behaviors on Social Networking Sites

Most Americans have privacy concerns, yet underestimate consequences of revealing too much personal information on social networks

October 25, 2010 — NEW YORK – A new national survey reveals half of Americans who use social networking sites have seen people divulge too much personal information, yet more than a quarter of Americans (28 percent) who use these sites admit that they rarely think about what could happen if they share too much personal information online.

Additionally, more than four in ten Americans (44 percent) are concerned that the personal information they share online is being used against them, and more than one in five (21 percent) Americans who use social networking sites believe that their personal information has been accessed by people who take advantage of weak privacy settings on social networking sites.

The 2010 Lawyers.com Social Networking Survey, as well as legal tips and resources on the risks associated with the use of social media, are available at Lawyers.com – the leading legal website for consumers and small business owners. Conducted by TNS Global, the survey was commissioned by LexisNexis to better understand Americans’ attitudes and behaviors toward sharing personal information on social networks.

“The Lawyers.com Social Networking Survey reveals a clear disconnect between the privacy concerns of users and their actual behaviors and disclosures on social networking sites,” said Carol Eversen, vice president of Marketing at LexisNexis. “Nearly every week we hear about the negative consequences resulting from inappropriate disclosures and uses of personal information on social networking sites, however the data suggests that Americans are not taking the necessary steps to protect themselves.”

Sharing Personal Information Online, How Much is Too Much?
More than half of Americans who use social networking sites have seen people divulge too much personal information online. In fact, the majority of Americans who use social networking sites admit that they have posted their first and last name (69 percent), photos of themselves (67 percent), or an email address (51 percent) on a social networking site. In addition, survey respondents have also shared the following details on a social networking site:

  • Travel plans (16 percent) 
  • Cell phone numbers (7 percent)
  • Home address (4 percent)

Determining how much is too much is still a struggle for many people. Nearly half of Americans (46 percent) agree that sometimes it is hard to figure out what information to share and what to keep private.

Consequences of Sharing Personal Information Online
As many Americans struggle with what type of personal information to post online and keep private, they also seldom think about the consequences of sharing personal information online. More than a quarter of Americans (28 percent) admit they rarely think about what could happen if they shared too much personal information online.

A quarter of Americans (25 percent) who use social networking sites say that they have seen people “misrepresent” themselves (e.g., posted incorrect information and created fake profiles) and alarmingly, more than one in ten Americans (14 percent) who use social networking sites say that they have received communication from strangers as a result of sharing information on a social networking site.

Other backlash from using social networking sites includes:

  • Someone posting unflattering pictures of them (11 percent)
  • Having personal relationships with family or friends affected from revealing too much information (7 percent) 
  • Being scolded or yelled at for information they’ve posted (6 percent)

Surprisingly, 38 percent of Americans agree that people who share too much of their personal information online deserve to have their information used inappropriately.

Privacy Concerns and Exploitation
Three-quarters of Americans (76 percent) worry that the privacy settings on social networking sites are not adequately protecting their personal information. In addition, more than four in ten Americans (43 percent) admit that they typically just click “agree” without reading the entire terms and conditions on social networking sites.

Meanwhile, many believe that their personal

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