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Many Facebook users unaware of privacy risks

A collage of profile pictures makes up a wall in the break room at the new Facebook Data Centre in North Carolina. Photo: AFP

A collage of profile pictures makes up a wall in the break room at the new Facebook Data Centre in North Carolina. Photo: AFP

Many users of Facebook are unaware of the privacy risks from the massive social network site or fail to take adequate precautions, a report by Consumers Reports said last Thursday.

The number of Facebook users worldwide has risen to 901 million

The report found nearly 13 million US Facebook users do not use, or are not aware of the site’s privacy controls. An estimated 4.8 million Americans have posted about where they planned to go on a certain day – a potential tip-off to burglars, the report noted.

And it found that 4.7 million have “liked” a Facebook page about health conditions or treatments, details that insurers might use against them.

The report, part of the nonprofit group’s State of the Net survey, estimated that seven million households using Facebook said they had trouble last year, ranging from someone using their log-in without permission to being harassed or threatened. That was up 30 per cent from the previous year.

Only 37 per cent of Facebook users said they have used the site’s privacy tools to customise how much information is shared with third parties, according to the Consumer Reports survey.

“Facebook really is changing the way the world socially communicates and has become a successful service in part by leveraging copious amounts of personal data that can be spread far wider than its users might realise,” said Jeff Fox, Consumer Reports technology editor.

“Our investigation revealed some fascinating, and some disquieting trends – but ones always worth knowing for consumers who wish to keep their personal data under better control.”

The report indicates Facebook gathers a considerable amount of information from users that they may not be aware of.

“Some users might be surprised to know that Facebook gets a report every time they visit a site with a ‘Like’ button, regardless of whether or not they click on that button, have a Facebook account, or are even logged in,” the organisation said.

It did give credit to Facebook for taking privacy and security “seriously” by implementing checks against abuses and inappropriate applications.

But Consumer Reports said Facebook should do more by fixing “a security lapse” that permits users to set up weak passwords including some six-letter dictionary words and to help users avoid inadvertently sharing status updates with the public.

Consumer Reports points out that all of this data collection is not without risks.

The report was based on a survey from January 16-31 of a sample of 2,002 people.

The number of people using Facebook worldwide had risen to 901 million by the end of the quarter, according to company documents.

Facebook’s debut on Wall Street will make 27-year-old co-founder Mark Zuckerberg a multi-billionaire with firm control of the world’s leading online social network.

After Facebook’s initial public offering of stock, Zuckerbergwill own 57.3 per cent of the hot Silicon Valley company in a stake valued at more than $15 billion based on how shares are expected to perform.

“Because Mr Zuckerberg controls a majority of our outstanding voting power, we are a ‘controlled company’ under the corporate governance rules for Nasdaq-listed companies,” Facebook said in an amended filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Facebook employees and investors are expected to cash-out to the overall tune of $5.5 billion by selling stock when the company begins trading on the Nasdaq in a debut slated for May 18.

“Facebook was not originally founded to be a company,” Zuckerberg said in a letter included in SEC paperwork.

“Most great people care primarily about building and being a part of great things, but they also want to make money,” he continued.

“Simply put: we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.”

A video released as part of a ‘roadshow’ to woo investorsfeatured Zuckerberg casuallydiscussing Facebook and its vision.

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