But consider the dictionary definition of privacy: 1) The state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people; 2) The state of being free from public attention. If that's your gold standard, then you cannot use Facebook or any other online service for that matter, at least not without privacy-protecting technology. Once you venture online, once you share, you're talking about something less than privacy. Online services may talk about how they respect privacy, but they should really be talking about data usage and sharing.
Facebook's privacy settings would be better referred to as sharing settings. That might encourage more people to use them. According to Consumer Reports, 13 million out of 150 million U.S. Facebook users don't use, or are not aware of, Facebook's privacy settings.
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Consumer Reports' data comes from a survey of 2,002 online households, 1,340 of which are active on Facebook. From this limited data set, the magazine has projected nationwide Facebook usage trends. The magazine's findings reveal some surprising privacy blind spots.
1. Privacy Settings
The fact that only 13 million, or 8.6%, of U.S. Facebook users, don't use, or don't know about, Facebook's privacy settings can be seen as encouraging because it's a relatively small percentage. It's high compared to the rate of illiteracy in the United States, which is about 1% or less if you accept a very lax definition of literacy. But it's about what you'd expect if you consider functional illiteracy, which suggests some 23 million U.S. adults have very low reading skills. If you use Facebook, Facebook literacy is a must.
2. Location Sharing
Consumer Reports estimates that 4.8 million people have published posts that contain details about their whereabouts during the day. The magazine calls this "a potential tip-off to burglars." While there have been reports of burglaries linked to online posts about being away from home, you have to wonder whether other methods of location broadcasting--such as leaving home, when anyone might observe your absence without leaving an online data trail--might not present more of a risk. Even so, it's probably best to think twice about saying too much about one's travel plans.
3. "Liking" Things That Could Be Used Against You
Some 4.7 million people have "liked" a Facebook page about a health condition or treatment. Consumer Reports suggests insurers could use this information against you. That may sound far-fetched, but there have already been documented cases of insurers scouring Facebook to fight fraud. And as Consumer Reports notes, the IRS and other government agencies are allowed to comb Facebook, and in some instances friend people, to fight fraud.