The list of controversies around Facebook's data practices is longer than Kris Kringle's log of who's naughty and nice. Most notable was the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which led to intense scrutiny from regulators around the world, but that was just the start of Facebook's recent troubles. Bugs mistakenly stored user information, glitches undermined privacy settings and the company's efforts to collect financial and medical information came to light. Now, a Pew report announced today shows that many Americans have been changing their relationship status with the social media platform over the last year.
Pew said that 54 percent of Americans have updated their privacy settings, 42 percent have taken extended breaks from Facebook and 26 percent have deleted the company's app from their phones in the last 12 months (the overlap stems from people who have done several of those things). Another nine percent downloaded the information Facebook has about them, and those people were even more likely to remove the app from their phones (47 percent) or update their privacy settings (79 percent) than those who didn't. All told, 74 percent of respondents told Pew they made at least one of these changes.
Young Facebook vs. Old Facebook
The survey also found a significant difference between how young Americans are using Facebook compared to their older counterparts. Pew said:
"Most notably, 44 percent of younger users (those ages 18 to 29) say they have deleted the Facebook app from their phone in the past year, nearly four times the share of users ages 65 and older (12 percent) who have done so. Similarly, older users are much less likely to say they have adjusted their Facebook privacy settings in the past 12 months: Only a third of Facebook users 65 and older have done this, compared with 64 percent of younger users."
That discrepancy could result from differing levels of technical literacy. However, Facebook has made efforts to simplify its settings and is prompting many of its users to at least check their privacy settings, if not actually update them. Still, there's a knowledge gap between people who have grown up with Facebook and those who haven't. More charitably, another possibility is that Facebook's older users already set up their privacy settings earlier and refused to use the mobile app.
Still, responses to Pew's poll should be greeted with skepticism. Pew polled 4,494 people between May and June 2018 about their Facebook use. The research group noted that "those who did not answer or gave other responses are not shown." Combine that with the fact that this is self-reported, and it's not hard to imagine the findings being skewed. Someone could have updated their privacy settings without realizing, said they took a break even if they really just checked Facebook less often, or lied about removing the app from their phone.
Facebook's own metrics have repeatedly shown that more people are using its platform than ever. But the Pew report isn't about people leaving the social network entirely. Instead, the report indicates that a significant number of people want to make sure their personal information is secure, while also trying not to be glued to Facebook. The social media site might be hard to quit entirely but changing user behavior could allow people to mitigate the effect it has on their lives.