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Facebook Users' Privacy Concerns Up Since 2011

Facebook Users' Privacy Concerns Up Since 2011

Story Highlights

  • 43% of Facebook users, up from 30%, very concerned about invasion of privacy
  • Majority of Facebook users very concerned about information being sold
  • Google users also increasingly worried about privacy

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress about his company's efforts to protect user privacy, U.S. Facebook users are increasingly concerned about invasion of privacy when using the social media site. Currently, 43% of Facebook users are very concerned about their privacy being invaded, up from 30% in a January 2011 Gallup poll.

Facebook Users More Concerned About Invasion of Privacy Than in 2011
How concerned are you about each of the following when using Facebook -- very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned or not concerned at all? How about -- Invasion of privacy?
2011 2018 Change
% % pct. pts.
Very concerned 30 43 +13
Somewhat concerned 35 31 -4
Not too concerned 23 15 -8
Not concerned at all 13 11 -2
Based on Facebook users
Gallup

The latest results are based on an April 2-8, 2018, Gallup poll of 785 Facebook users, defined as those who have their own Facebook page. Overall, 56% of U.S. adults say they have a Facebook page, up from 43% in 2011.

Zuckerberg's appearance on Capitol Hill comes as his company is dealing with the revelation that information from an estimated 87 million Facebook users was shared with a political data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica, in violation of Facebook's data sharing policies. The social media company has also been scrutinized for the spread of misleading stories and ads on its platform during the 2016 presidential election campaign, including by interests outside the U.S.

Such incidents likely contribute to the growing concern among Facebook users about invasion of privacy. In addition to the 43% very concerned about the matter, another 31% say they are somewhat concerned, resulting in a total of 74% at least somewhat concerned, up from 65% seven years ago.

Heightened concern about invasion of privacy when using Facebook is evident among most key subgroups of Facebook users, but particularly older and upper-income users. A gap between older and younger users has emerged, with 52% of those 50+ saying they are very concerned about privacy, compared with 39% of those 18 to 49.

Privacy Concerns Higher Among Key Segments of Facebook Users
Figures are the percentages "very concerned" about invasion of privacy when using Facebook
2011 2018 Change
% % pct. pts.
Gender
Men 27 45 +18
Women 32 42 +10
Age
18 to 49 years old 30 39 +9
50+ years old 29 52 +23
College graduate
Yes 27 42 +15
No 31 44 +13
Annual household income
Less than $90,000 30 41 +11
$90,000 and above 21 46 +25
Party identification
Democrat 28 38 +10
Independent 31 47 +16
Republican 31 42 +11
Based on Facebook users
Gallup

A separate question, asked for the first time this year, finds 55% of Facebook users saying they are very concerned and 25% somewhat concerned about their personal information being sold to and used by other companies and organizations.

Google Users Also More Concerned About Invasion of Privacy

Although privacy breaches affecting Facebook users have gotten a great deal of news attention lately, Google users are also more likely now than in 2011 to say they are very concerned about invasion of privacy when using Google. Currently, 35% of Google users, up from 25% in 2011, are very concerned about invasion of privacy when using that platform.

Google Users More Concerned About Invasion of Privacy
How concerned are you about each of the following when using Google -- very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned or not concerned at all? How about -- Invasion of privacy?
2011 2018 Change
% % pct. pts.
Very concerned 25 35 +10
Somewhat concerned 27 30 +3
Not too concerned 29 22 -7
Not concerned at all 19 13 -6
Based on Google users
Gallup

Still, Facebook users remain more concerned about invasion of privacy when using Facebook than Google users do when using Google, 43% to 35%. The gap between Facebook and Google has expanded slightly since 2011, from five percentage points to eight points.

Google users are, however, no less likely than Facebook users to be concerned about having their personal information sold to and used by other companies and organizations. Fifty-seven percent of Google users are very concerned about this, compared with 55% of Facebook users.

Overall, 74% of U.S. adults currently say they use Google in a typical week, up from 60% in 2011.

U.S. adults who use both Facebook and Google express greater concern with invasion of privacy on Facebook (42%) than on Google (33%). A similar gap existed in 2011, 29% to 21%.

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Implications

Technological advances have greatly improved Americans' ability to find information and stay in touch with friends and family. While firms such as Facebook and Google provide these services for free, their financial viability depends on their ability to sell their users' data to advertisers and marketers. Those activities, and the kinds of information they share, are spelled out in their terms of service, although it is unclear how familiar users are with those and to what extent they are concerned with particular aspects of them.

Facebook does allow researchers access to personal data to use in academic study but does not permit the data to be sold or transferred to be used in targeting users, as occurred in the Cambridge Analytica case. Moreover, only a small fraction of the users whose personal information was acquired by Cambridge Analytica authorized giving those data to a third party. Facebook CEO Zuckerberg will attempt to convince Congress, as well as Americans more broadly, that his company takes the risks to privacy seriously and has the will and the means to protect Facebook users' privacy. If he is not able to convince Congress of that, the calls for regulation of major internet companies like Facebook and Google will likely increase.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 2-8, 2018, on the Gallup U.S. Poll, with a random sample of 1,509 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 785 Facebook users, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 1,106 Google users, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Poll works.

Gallup


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