Opinion: People aren’t as bothered by privacy as you are

People weren't as worried about their privacy as the coverage suggested

People weren't as worried about their privacy as the coverage suggested

For all the hand-wringing about Facebook’s privacy changes it appears that very few users actually care all that much, writes Adam Maguire.

Today is ‘Quit Facebook Day‘, the moment when the anger against Facebook’s privacy chances comes to a head in the form of a mass exodus from the website. Or at least that was the plan. Looking at the campaign’s website there are currently just over 29,000 ‘committed’ quitters signed up to the plan, that’s out of nearly 500m active users (it should be stated that that number is relatively quickly throughout the day – though so is Facebook’s membership).

Assuming these users all actually follow through on their promise and quit the site will suffer less than a 0.007% dip in membership; something that will take all of ten minutes to recoup. Even if you allow for those users who have already quit the site over privacy concerns the numbers still fail to make a dent. In fact even if 400,000 users walked away tonight it would still be below a 0.1% drop in membership figures.

These small ‘quit’ figures may in some way be attributable to last week’s changes which moved to simplify privacy settings for individual users. This has gone a long way to allaying privacy fears but it has not gone far enough for some and the problem still remains that Facebook automatically shares information unless told to do otherwise.

However even before these changes were announced the Quit Facebook campaign’s numbers were low. All of this flies completely in the face of a recent poll which suggested that over half of all members might quit over privacy concerns. So what is going on?

One possibility is that people just do not know what risks they are taking by being on Facebook.

However while it would be easy to paint those who have not pledged to quit as ignorant dolts who know no better – and many probably will – this is far too easy a categorisation to be true. Yes, there are many users who are unaware of the information they give away by using the site but most are fully tuned-in. Many have made changes to their profiles to suit their tastes and are happy to carry on using the site as it stands.

Another possibility is that people just do not care all that much about their privacy. These people are just as tech savvy as any other Facebook user and have no doubt seen the impact of Facebook’s openness first-hand, probably more than those who shout from the sidelines, yet they carry on regardless.

It is most likely the case, however, that they are aware of their privacy but do not feel that Facebook has crossed their own personal threshold just yet. Users may have privacy concerns but they are either minor or misplaced; they are certainly not as serious as some coverage suggested and clearly the benefits out-weight the negatives attached.

In reality the rage-filled coverage of the controversy did not represent the average user but instead reflected the result of the internet’s echo-chamber, where those in the vast minority talk themselves into a frenzy. It was helped by the fact that it involved a rising star of new media and the risk that its ascent may pose to the hapless individual.

But most users, it is now clear, did not really care. They might want to protect their privacy but they feel that at present it is not in danger.

Privacy campaigners, to their credit, are generally fighting for the right reasons but if they want to advance their cause they first need to recognise that not everyone is supportive of it, even if it affects them. For the sake of avoiding similar mass-hysteria in the future let’s hope they do.

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