Privacy in Social Networking Websites

User’s Personal Data

Final Report Group – 14 Group Name: Security Supervisor: Oliver Popov

By Suresh Siddagari (870530-0559) Miguel Ángel Domínguez Coloma (840102-A277)


Remarkable growth has been observed in Social Networking Websites over the past few years. Participation in these websites also increases drastically. Social Networking sites became a popular means of communication in the Internet. Thousands of people are registering accounts in Social Networking Websites like Face Book, MySpace and Orkut daily. It is very easy to create a webpage or personal “profile” in these sites which contains personal information. One user’s profile is visible to others and they can see personal information like messages, hobbies or interests, interested communities. Knowingly or unknowingly users are disclosing their private data to others which is considered as “loss of personal privacy”. Of course they are “settings” available in their profile either to increase visibility of data to others or to decrease visibility of private information. But most of the people do not change their profile settings after creating their account to enhance privacy level, may be due lack of knowledge about privacy. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of the Social Networking Website to preserve privacy of their users. In the process of preserving, they have to put certain attributes (messages, hobbies) of users under default settings. In this research, we find out which attributes have greater role in losing of privacy according to a user. We have to put these attributes under default settings to increase privacy level in the Social Networking Website.

1 Introduction
1.1 Background
In the present world of communication, people have a lot of choices to choose their own means of communication like Email, Short Text Message (SMS), and Social Networking Sites (SNS). Today all most all people who use Internet regularly have an account in a SNS, especially students. SNSs are basically intended for online communication and networking. Social Networking has become a popular trend in Internet users; participation in these sites has grown drastically in the recent years. These sites have blurred the boundaries across countries and people [1]. Many people lives in the society are integrated with SNS [7].

1.2 Description of Research Area
As we already said SNS evolved as a one of the popular means of communication and networking. Millions of people registered in various SNSs and that count is going on still. Liu and Maes [8] approximated “well over a million of self descriptive personal profiles are available across web-based social networks” in the US. Large number of people is interested to take part in SNS and a big business is going around this. On the other hand many people voicing about their revelation of personal information in SNS. One of the big successes achieved by SNS, attracted interest of media and forum of researchers [9]. It had its own impact on the social life of people.

1.3 Research Question and Problem
Privacy is essential concern in SNS. In this research, we would like to research how to increase privacy level in these sites. In specific, we find certain attributes which are to be included under default privacy settings to enhance privacy for users In this research, we would like to answer the following questions. 1. What is the need of Social Networking Site as a means of communication? 2. How users can enhance their privacy level in their “profile”? 3. Which attributes of a user are to be included under default privacy settings?

1.4 Goal of the Research
Research goal defines finding need of SNS and which attributes are to be included in the default privacy settings of a user to increase privacy level.

1.5 Limitations
1. We have taken tiny sample size in our research; it has its impact on accurate measuring. 2. If many of the users who participate in survey use same social networking site, they don’t know about privacy issues in other sites. 3. In the survey sample, different categories of users like students, employees have to present otherwise survey outcome is biased to one category. 4. All participants need some knowledge related privacy otherwise they can’t answer correctly.

2 Extended Background
2.1 Growth of Social Networking sites, Privacy Issues:
Tremendous growth has been seen in SNS over the past a few years and SNS plays significant role in the daily lives of people. In addition to this, it attracted media attention. SNS provides new way of communication to the people other than traditional ways. People join in SNSs like MySpace, Facebook, Orkut and create their own profile that contains identity information about themselves. With existing friends in the profile they start “befriending” their friends’ friends. Generally a profile contains user’s own name or phony name and also includes their personal information like photos, videos, friend’s list, interests, hobbies. Knowingly or unknowingly, they disclose their private information to others. After creating their profile, most of the users never change their profile settings to limit other’s visibility of their private data. Many social networking sites do not include privatizing of profile information under default settings. Users are losing their privacy by exhibiting their private data on such sites which leads to potential attacks and even brutal killings [4]. Only a few members are concentrating on privacy issues of their profiles in these websites [2].

Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Memo and Orkut are being integrated into our daily lives. Nowadays there exist several SNSs with a wide range of interests and practices. Some sites do not have a big audience, while others attract people based on common language or shared racial, sexual, religious, or nationality-based identities. Furthermore, they incorporate new information and communication tools, such as mobile connectivity, blogging, and photo or video sharing. [5]. Privacy has grown in importance recently. The information harms users when it travels through different SNS, other user’s profiles or other sites and ends up with people whom it was not intended for [6]

2.2 Research Methodology
In our research, we would like to apply quantitative approach. As a part of quantitative approach, we would like to conduct a survey with a questionnaire about privacy in Social Networking sites. As our research requires interaction with users of SNS we choose this method of research. Along with that, this method of research is very cheap. During this survey, we collect data from users that which attributes of a user like photos, messages, personal interests and so on are to be put under non-accessible section unless user specifies them under public deliberately. With survey information, we represent data in the form of tables and graphs to decide which attributes are to be put under default settings.

3 Results
3.1 Questionnaire
We did our research using quantitative approach. As a part of quantitative approach we carried out a survey with a questionnaire on Social Network Sites, Impact of social networking on user’s social life and user’s privacy. We conducted this survey in online and we got responses in online. We divided questionnaire in three parts. First part concentrated data about need of social networking sites in this digital age of communication, impact of these sites on user’s social life, what people are thinking about participating in social networking sites i.e., whether it has improved their social life or not and lastly amount of time spending on these sites by users. Second part got data regarding user’s privacy in social networking sites. In second part we tried to figure out user’s knowledge on privacy, their feelings about privacy in SNS. In third part, data is obtained related to privacy settings in their profile (in the site) i.e., how they can enhance their privacy and which attributes are to put under default privacy settings.

3.2 Responses from Users
In our survey totally 46 members are participated. Out of 46 members 42 members had account in social networking site and only of them had no account. In order to get general notion about social networking sites, we did our survey not only on students and young people but also on employees for various organizations. According to this, we got information almost all students had account at least in one social networking site. At that same time we found certain students who didn’t account in any site.
3.2.1 Responses -Need of Social Networking sites, Impact on their life:

We told previously in the first part we got data about social networking sites need, impact on social life and people thinking about these kinds of sites.

User Responses
Questions Need of Social Networking Sites Yes 37 (88%) No 5(12%)

Usage of SNS improved your social life or it is a waste of time in front of a computer

21(48%) Improved

19(43%) Waste of time, Not Improved 4(9%)

Number of people having SNS account



Loss of Privacy in SNS by users

In the second part, survey questions are intended to get information about user’s privacy in a SNS. Many users felt that exhibiting their profiles was a loss of privacy. Despite of loss of privacy many users are interested in participating in SNS. Most of users felt that SNS added a positive impact on their social life. Following table shows data collected about privacy.

User Responses
Questions Exhibiting your profiles to others is a loss of privacy It is worth being on a SNS with the risk of losing your privacy Usage of SNS added a positive impact on social life Yes 23(51%) 27(64%) 34(77%) No 22(49%) 15(36%) 10(23%)


Attributes to be included under default settings

In third part, we collected data to achieve research objective i.e., which attributes are to be included under default setting to increase privacy level to a user profile. We also collected data about how many users changed their default settings in their profile after creating their accounts. Among the users participated in the survey, considerable number of users didn’t know how to increase privacy level to their profile. Following pie diagram represents that how many users changed their default settings after creating their account in a SNS.

Most of the users felt that personal messages, photos and comments by friends are to be included in default settings. In the following chart, we represented which attributes are to be put under default settings of a user.


No.of Responses 18(41%) 28(64%)

Your favorite videos Comments by your friends Communities list Friends list Hobbies or Interests Messages Photos

12(27%) 19(43%) 12(27%) 41(93%) 30(68%)

4 Analysis of Results
In this section, we analyze results that we got through survey questionnaire. We analyze results in the same way we presented our responses above.

4.1 Need of Social Networking Site and its impact:
In our survey, we found that majority of people especially students had SNS account except a few people. In this modern digital age of communication we have a lot of options to communicate or to network with others. But majority of people quoted the need of social networking sites despite of other communication means like email. At the same time some part of users expressed that SNS improved their networking and some part of users considered it as a time of waste sitting in front of a computer.

4.2 Loss of Privacy in SNS by users
Greater number of users conveyed that there was a loss of their privacy by exhibiting their profiles. Despite of this many users felt that it was worth being to participate in a SNS even at the risk of privacy. Good number of users felt that it added a positive edge in their social life.

4.3 Attributes to be included under default privacy settings:
Our research objective is to increase privacy level to a profile by keeping key attributes under default settings. According to survey, majority of users expressed that user personal messages, photos, comments received by users from friends are to be put under default settings.

5 Conclusion
5.1 Conclusion
In our survey about Social Networking Site, we got interesting conclusions. Most of the people specified the need of the kind of websites even though they have other options to communicate. Users are interested to take part in SNS despite of loss of personal privacy. The term “Social Networking” became one of the trend setters in the communication area through Internet. Users are using SNS to network and to improve their social life. Only small number of users has privacy knowledge and they are only feeling that exhibiting their private data is a loss of privacy. Among account holders in SNS, considerable number of people did not change their profile visibility setting after creating their account. We also collected data that which attributes are to be put under default settings to increase their privacy level.

5.2 Suggestions for Future Research
It is the responsibility of the SNS to protect user’s privacy or “profile” data. Researches need to be carried out in the path of increasing user’s privacy in these sites. Along with this, security aspects of SNS applications are also to be considered for further research.

6 Literature References
1. Ralph Gross, Alessandro Acquisti .,2005. Information Revelation and Privacy in Online Social Networks, [Online]. PP 1-4. Available at: [Accessed 29 November 2009] 2. David C.Evans, Samuel D.Gosling, Anthony Carroll .,2008. What Elements of an Online Social Networking Profile Predict Target- Rater Agreement in Personality Impressions? [Online]. PP 1-3. Available at : [Accessed 29 November 2009] 3. Catherine Dwyer, Starr Roxanne Hiltz., 2007. Trust and Privacy concern within social networking sites: A comparison of Facebook and MySpace. PP 2-4. Available at:

[Accessed 29 Nov 2009] 4. Brain3k, 2008. Privacy Issues in Social Networking. Available at [Accessed 29

Nov 2009]
5. David Riphagen, 2008. Privacy risks for users of social networks sites. Available at: [ Accessed 3 Dec 2009]

6. Danah M. Boyd, Nicole B. Ellison, 2007. Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Available at: [ Accessed 4 Dec 2009]

7 Appendix
Profile Orkut Facebook MySpace Attribute

1. Do you have an account in social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Orkut ? (Mandatory) Yes No 2. How many times do you open your profile in a day? 1 time 2 times 3 times More than 3 times 3. Do you feel that exhibiting your profiles to others is a loss of privacy? Yes No 4. Did you modify your profile settings other than the default ones after creating your account? Yes No 5. Which data do you feel should not be revealed to others (people not in your friend list)? (Check all applicable options) Photos

Personal Messages Seeing your friends list 6. Which of the following are not accessible to public other than your friends with your site default settings? (Check all applicable options) Photos Messages Hobbies or Interests Friends list Communities list 7. Which of the following according to you should be put under private by default? (Check all applicable options) Photos Messages Hobbies or Interests Friends list Communities list Comments by your friends Your favorite videos 8. Do you think it is worth being on a social networking website with the risk of losing your privacy? Yes No 9. Do you think in this digital age of communication social networking website is required to network? Yes No 10. Has the usage of social networking sites added a positive impact on your social life? Yes No 11. Has using a social networking sites actually improved your social life or do you just end up spending more time in front of a computer?

Yes, it improved No, not improved, just spending time in front of it