Gender Differences in Facebook Privacy Matters

Many young adults love hanging out in Facebook, Myspace, or other social networking sites. These users share personally identifiable information to a personal profile, which is like their own web page, usually posting information related to their demographics, contacts, and name. This article is the summary of a study written by Mariea Grubbs Hoy and George Milne  about the gender differences regarding online privacy among 18 to 24 year olds, and the use of personal information beyond social connection purposes. You can get the pdf of the behavioral targeting article here: Gender Differences in Privacy-Related Measures For Young Adult Facebook Users.

Advertisers have used the content found in social networks to target users with relevant ads. For example, advertisers can send out bridal shop ads to women whose profile relationship status is set to Engaged. Consumer searches, visited Web pages, and viewed content are also used for targeting, in a strategy which is collectively known as behavioral advertising or behavioral marketing.

Users who join Social Networking Sites don’t expect to see ads relevant to their interests. They only joined because they want to connect with their friends or acquaintances, and so to most of these users behavioral advertising is just an invasion of privacy. What advertisers can do is really understand how social networking site users behave and what they believe in, specially for the women, who use these sites more than men, and they are found to be more concerned about privacy.

Social Networking and Privacy

Social Networking Sites used to be about groups and forming online communities that have common interests. But it has evolved to focus more on the way people communicate with others, and a way to connect with “friends” and know their social spheres. As it turns out, online interactions in these sites encourage sharing of personal information to others. The more personal information you share about yourself, the more findable and knowable you are. Many young adults know that they leave personal information as they interact with these sites, but most of them don’t really care about having a limit to the amount of information they are willing to share about themselves. In fact, studies show that most college students share high levels of personal information in their social networking site profiles.


Facebook is the most popular social networking site. Most of its users share a huge amount of personal information, due to several reasons, including peer pressure and ignorance to the implications of disclosing personal information. This implies that social networking sites are data rich environments, and motivates Facebook to use behavioral targeting effectively for their advertising endeavors. If you have an account, you must be familiar with applications asking you to allow access to personal information before proceeding. Controversially, some of these apps gather information which they don’t really need.

Research Questions

The study will primarily examine gender differences related to privacy concerns, beliefs and awareness about the use of Social Networking Site profile information for behavioral advertising. These are the three main questions. First, what is the difference between men and women in terms of privacy beliefs and concerns with respect to social networking sites? Second, what is their difference in terms of beliefs and awareness about the use of profile information in their sites beyond their original purpose? Finally, what is their difference in terms of privacy-related behaviors?

18 to 24 year old adults from the United States were recruited through Facebook and surveyed. In summary, 29 students joined a Facebook group as part of their research class, and they invited all of their friends to join as well. The final profile for analysis includes 589 respondents, 72.7 percent female and 27.3 percent male.

Privacy Concerns and Beliefs

A five-point scale was used to assess the beliefs of the respondents, 1 being very unconcerned, to 5 being very concerned. Results showed that women were more concerned than men about the privacy of their personal information. In terms of the ability of social networking sites to protect their privacy is concerned, both genders neither agree nor disagree, and both agree that sites should alert them when companies use behavioral targeting.

Beliefs and Awareness of Profile Usage Beyond Original Purpose

Both genders are a bit aware of advertisers’ practice on social networking sites, although female are more likely to go against this practice. When men have greater privacy concern, they tend to agree more on the fact that advertisers use their site information for targeting ads, that they should know how their personal information is used, and that they should be alerted if someone’s tracking them. Women have the same results, but agreed less on social networking sites doing well in protecting their privacy for increasing privacy concerns.

Privacy Related Behaviors

More women read the privacy policy of a social networking site before joining, and a lot more men haven’t read the privacy policy at all. Women have done all of these more than men: untagged pictures, being careful about accepting friends, monitor profile, careful about posting pictures, controlling privacy settings and using the privacy feature. More women ask others to delete some personal information posted about them that they didn’t want to appear. For privacy protection, men’s strategies include lying, technology, managing image, being careful. Women’s strategies are lying, review, being careful, and post hoc control.

Implications for Behavioral Advertising

For the sample of young adults surveyed in the study, there is a general lack of concern. That is mostly because of the benefits from following a social networking format, e.g. it’s fun to browse other people’s profiles form information. However, they should know and be aware of how their personal info is used by advertisers. So this study suggests that when advertisers are using the information of a user, it should alert the user. There is already an initiative for this, acted on by the group Future of Privacy Forum, by coming up with a standardized logo for each time users are alerted about the use of their personal information. This logo will be paired with the sentence, “Why did I get this ad?” which links to a page explaining behavioral targeting. Furthermore, if awareness as to how the data in social networking ads are used for advertising is enhanced, that will benefit both the advertiser and the social networking site.

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