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  1. Privacy in the Age of Social Media    



    The thesis should focus on Privacy in the age of social media with regards to how much information people give up on sites like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and others. Organization of Ideas/Format: Overall format of the assignment needs to include an appropriate introduction (or abstract), well-developed paragraphs, and conclusion.
    Title Page
    Copyright Page (Appendix 12: Sample of Permission to Quote or Reproduce Copyrighted Material Letter)
    Dedication Page
    Acknowledgments Page
    Abstract of the Thesis
    Table of Content
    List of Tables
    List of Figures
    Literature review
    List of References


Subject Social Media Pages 12 Style APA



Social networking sites have transformed conventional methods of sharing information. They are set up on an individual’s online social sphere where users have access to a range of virtual means of interaction. The social networking sites and applications have transformed into significant platforms of communication that are assimilated into the daily lives of users. Nevertheless, these sites have weakened the line between the online and offline lives of users and created the impression of intimacy and familiarity across the web. This situation has led to sharing of a substantial quantity of individual data that users would have otherwise kept confidential. The technology of social media has both favorable and unfavorable consequences. In as much as it offers significant benefits to the users, it results into a huge responsibility and cost, which involves the privacy of users. Social media users are susceptible to privacy violations from various entities which may include service providers, other users, third-party sites, and malicious offenders. Even so, the responsibility of protecting privacy exists largely within the individual user and is usually reliant on users’ level of information exposure and awareness of protection mechanisms. When users share personal data such as age, gender, location, education, and other personal details like family or personal images, this establishes an identity that criminals can easily steal and use.

This research intends to examine the magnitude of this issue by determining the levels of private information disclosure in social media sites, what information users reveal, the extent of personal information exposure to the public, the awareness and knowledge levels regarding how social media sites service providers protect user’s information and their privacy settings. The research will also investigate how personal attributes affect users’ perception of privacy. The research utilized two methods of data collection: an online survey to gather data about how users behave on social media and a synthesis of studies on privacy on social media that have used both qualitative and quantitative measurements. The research concludes by providing recommendations that may help users protect themselves and experience safer use of social networking sites.














Table of Contents

Abstract. 1

List of tables. 5

List of Figures. 6

Chapter One: Introduction. 7

1.0 Context. 7

1.2 Significance of Study. 9

Chapter Two: Literature Review.. 11

2.0 History of Social Networks. 11

2.1 Social Networking Sites. 12

2.2 Features and Types of social networks. 13

2.2.1 Facebook. 14

2.2.2 Instagram.. 15

2.2.3 Twitter. 16

2.2.4 Snapchat. 16

2.2.5 Youtube. 17

2.3 Social Networking and Privacy. 18

2.3.1 Security and Privacy. 18

2.4 Social networks and the issue of privacy. 22

2.4.1 Identity Theft. 24

2.4.2 Data mining in social networks. 28

2.4.3 Connecting users across various domains with location information. 29

2.4.3 Uploaded photos’ Exif data. 29

2.5 Social Media Sites and their Privacy Policies. 30

2.5.1 Facebook. 31

2.5.2 Instagram.. 32

2.5.3 Snapchat. 34

2.5.4 Twitter. 36

2.5.5 You Tube. 38

Chapter 3: Research Methodology. 40

3.1 Research Questions. 40

3.2 Research Design. 41

3.2.1 Description of the Survey. 41

3.2.2 Synthesis of Studies. 43

3.3 Data Collection. 44

3.3.1 Target population and sample size. 44

3.3.2 Reliability and Validity. 44

3.5 Data Analysis. 45

3.6 Limitations/Delimitations of Study. 45

Chapter Four: Results and Discussion. 46

4.0 Introduction. 46

4.1 Survey Findings. 46

4.1.1 Usage of Social networks and privacy concerns. 50

4.1.2 Disclosure of Personal Information and privacy settings. 52

4.1.3 User’s Awareness of Privacy Policies. 53

4.1.4       Impact of Age, Education, Gender and Level of Privacy Concern on Disclosure of Information and Privacy Settings. 53

4.2 Synthesis Results. 54

Chapter Five: Discussion. 55

5.1 Responding to the Research Questions. 55

Chapter Six: Summary and Recommendations. 58

6.1 Research Summary. 58

6.3 Future Research. 60

References. 61




List of tables

Table 2.1: Features of social networking sites………………………………………………………………………..14

Table 2.2 Attributes of Facebook and their default privacy settings…………..……………………….16

Table 2.3 Twitter’s options of user-profiles and default privacy settings…………………………….17

Table 4.1 Social networks selected by respondents…………………………………………………………………48

Table 4.2 Education demographics of the sample…………………………………………………………………….51







List of Figures

Figure 4.1 Chart showing the variation of males versus females in the choice of social networks………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………49

Figure 4.2 Gender demographics of the respondents……………………………………………………………...50

Figure 4.3 Age demographics of the sample……………………………………………………………………………..51

Figure 4.4 Showing education demographics for the sample………………………………………………….52

Figure 4.5 Motivations for using social networks……………………………………………………………………..53

Figure 4.6 Frequency of social networks use…………………………………………………………………………….54

Figure 4.7 User’s level of privacy concern…………………………………………………………………………………55

Chapter One: Introduction

1.0 Context

Social media usage has soared within the last few years. Social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter LinkedIn, Instagram, and others, have enabled people across the world to connect and interact with friends, colleagues, professionals, and other people in a manner that did not exist previously. Before social media, people used to communicate and share information through mechanisms that were limited, particularly based on interaction. The inception of social media has transformed the way people present and reveal personal information. In today’s social media, some users use social media to promote businesses, some use it exclusively for networking and some users use their social media profiles to keep updating others on their lives (Aldhafferi et al, 2013). Users can share details about their lives seamlessly in the form of photos, videos, status updates, or posts. Besides, users share their content with a bigger audience, occasionally bigger than they have in view. Technological advancement has allowed social media sites to grow tremendously in a manner that has resulted in new mechanisms of information sharing. Initially, social networks were merely websites that could only be accessed by users through a desktop or a laptop. Nevertheless, with the introduction of smartphones, social networking sites developed mobile versions of their applications which enabled users to easily and conveniently access their social media profiles, update them in real-time, and more actively. The more social networks became accessible and convenient to use, the more users shared information because social media became a continual part of their lives (Coyle & Vaughan, 2008).

According to Statista (2016), social media users increased to about 2.34 billion globally in August 2016. This number has grown to over 2.9 billion in 2020 which makes up about a third of the global population. Due to the elevated utilisation of social media, these sites have become great repositories of individual content. Since social media is used frequently, there is a question of whether users are relinquishing their privacy. Social media sites undoubtedly possess a powerful social impact which ultimately blurs the line between users’ offline and online lives. Most users have obliged to share private information including gender, age, location, address, and images without questioning what happens to the data after it is gathered by the sites. When people make personal information private on these sites, they expect to be the only ones with access to the content. The lack of awareness on who has access to user content on social media sites implies that the privacy of users may be at risk. Individuals’ private data is beneficial to various parties and is susceptible to misuse for financial benefits. First and foremost, sharing of personal information leaves individuals exposed to online attackers, who may use the information for malicious activities such as online stalking and theft of identity. Such activities can affect the safety of users and cause them both financial losses and emotional distress.

This study intends to expound on user’s behaviours of disclosing their data, their awareness and knowledge about privacy, privacy settings, and policies in social networking sites. The study will also assess how personal attributes influence user’s conception of privacy which determines how much they disclose their personal information and apply the privacy settings in social networking sites. An online survey was utilized to answer the research questions. Secondary sources such as research papers and newspaper articles with content related to social media were analyzed to determine the influence of social media on the privacy of users. The research questions that the study intends to answer are the following:

Question 1: What is the level of awareness and knowledge that users have regarding their privacy when using social media?

Question 2: What are the individual characteristics that affect how users disclose their information and their privacy settings on social media sites?

Question 3: How does users’ perception of privacy affect the extent of personal information they reveal on social media sites?

1.2 Significance of the Study

The importance of studying privacy in the era of social media is increasing as social media sites become more popular. Besides, new social media applications keep emerging hence increasing the sources via which personal information can be accessed. The fact that most of the social media sites have mobile versions is one reason why social media has become integral in users’ lives. This is because mobile versions of social media applications make it effortless for users to access social networks and share information in their daily lives. This has also made it easier to track the behaviour of users. The research examines what kind of content users share on social media sites. The research focused on five social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. After analyzing current research on social media privacy, it was clear that little research has been conducted in this field. Some studies have focused on mostly Facebook. With regards to this, this study will extensively analyze the five most popular social networking platforms. One of the newest and fastest-developing social networks to date is Snapchat, with over 249 million daily active users (Statista, 2020). Even so, very few studies have been conducted on Snapchat. Thus, this research will provide substantial content on the kind of information that users reveal in the five social media sites and the extent to which users expose themselves to the public. Additionally, the research will determine social media users’ awareness and understanding of how their individual information is gathered, stored, displayed, and shared.

Understanding what kind of information users reveal, their perception of privacy and their levels of awareness and knowledge is very essential in helping develop suggestions and guidelines that are protective and may improve the security of users while using social media, safeguard their privacy and increase their knowledge and awareness. Hence this research aims to recommend security and privacy directions for social media users that can enhance protection from privacy violations or online criminals.



Chapter Two: Literature Review

2.0 History of Social Networks

The history of social networking dates back many years ago. It is believed that social networking began when the first email was sent in 1971 (Curtis, 2013). The majority of people embraced this form of communication for several reasons. Firstly, emails provided a cheap and affordable way of sending information to people all over the globe, and responses world be given almost instantly. The email motivated people to invent other communication mechanisms. In 1978, Randy Suess and Ward Christensen invented the Bulletin Board System to enable users to communicate through phone lines. People could communicate with each other regarding meetings, occasionally share information, and make announcements. The following decade was marked by the introduction of several applications to the world including the World Wide Web (Curtis, 2013). This advancement inspired people to invent better ways of information- sharing not only in a single location but also across the world. Geocities, which was conceivably the first system of social networking, was introduced by Beverly Hills Internet to the world. This system enabled people to develop unique websites based on their preferences and tastes. 1997 was marked by the greatest achievement in social networking when the World Wide Web acquired over 1 million websites. That same year blogging began; Six degrees was introduced which allowed users to create profiles and enlist friends similar to present-day social networking sites; AOL, which enabled users to converse in real-time from different locations was introduced; and blackboard, which enabled learners and educators to interact through the internet was also introduced (Boyd & Ellison, 2008). Friend united was introduced in 1999 and was a social network platform meant to reconnect learners from different schools. Friendster was introduced in 2002 and spread to about 3 million users in less than three months when AOL had acquired about 34 million users (Curtis, 2013). In 2003, LinkedIn, which was specifically for business experts and colleagues, and Myspace, which was for everyone, were launched. In the following year, Facebook was introduced, the next year Bebo, then YouTube, Twitter, followed by Bing, and Google Plus each within a year-interval (Lusted 2011). Since then, social networks have spread and expanded to include a lot of users across the globe.

2.1 Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites are web-based applications and services that enable people to create private, semi-public, or public profiles within an enclosed system (Boyd & Ellison, 2008). Users can make a list of friends that constitutes other online users in the same sites with whom they have familiar connections or interests. Each social networking site has a distinct function, thus, their nomenclature and nature vary based on the site. The distinctiveness of social media sites lies within the fact that the user has the freedom to communicate in a network with new users and also interact with people whom they know from their offline networks, through the Internet.

Social networking sites represent an online community where people are inspired to communicate, connect and engage with others in the network. Mack Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook, mentions that “I wanted to create an environment where people could share whatever information they wanted, but also have control over whom they shared that information with” (Zuckerberg, 2006). Users can engage with other users by posting their individual information, sharing news and information, uploading images and videos, and/or real-time and instant communications with others through the chat functionality in social media sites (Shin, 2010). The enormous spread of social networking sites began to take place at the beginning of 2003, at first when Myspace was introduced, which bloomed to be the most widespread social networking site at that period (Byod &Ellison, 2008). Myspace distinguished itself from other sites by providing users with the freedom to personalize their profiles. Facebook was introduced as an exclusively Harvard social network in 2004 and grew to be the most widespread in 2008, surpassing Myspace. By 2015’s second quarter, Facebook had about 1.49 billion active users (Statista, 2016). Through constant improvement of the sites and the addition of new features, Facebook has managed to sustain its success. Currently, there are over one hundred social networking sites that have emerged, each created to attend to a specific audience or with a distinct design that differentiates it from other social media sites.

2.2 Features and Types of social networks

According to research by Mislove et al., (2007), social networking sites have five main features that distinguish them from other web-based applications. The table below displays a summary of the five main characteristics of social media sites.

Table 2.1: Features of social networking sites


  • Users are the ones who provide content
  • Information flow is not controlled by the master of the web, it can be controlled by any person
  • The sites are unstructured or freeform

Driven by the community

  • Users have shared connections or interests
  • Users can reach and interact with old friends


  • The sites are not merely websites with chat forums or rooms
  • Users have various options: they can comment on the posts, pictures, or videos of other users, they can play online games which are offered by the social media sites (particularly third party sites authorized by the social networks), undertake quizzes, and share their ideas, thoughts, videos, and photos with friends


Focus on emotion over the content

  • Before the introduction of social networking sites, website content majorly stressed information delivery to visitors,  nevertheless, with social media sites, users can talk about their needs in a community of accessible friends, which makes social media sites emotionally focused


  • Social media sites are primarily founded on the number of followers or friends and relationships between users
  • If privacy settings are improperly set up on a user’s account, their personal information could be disseminated to their friends, the friends of friends, and other unidentified users


Social media sites can be distinguished based on their functionalities and purpose. For instance, Twitter is a suitable site when an individual wants to send a brief note to a big audience, although it is inappropriate for communication if the message contains more than 280 characters. Likewise, if a user is seeking to post video communication other than text, YouTube is the most suitable tool. This study has focused on five social networking sites namely: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube. Each of the sites has a distinct function, varying functionalities, and offers users varying experiences.

2.2.1 Facebook

Facebook is an American-based online social networking media and service which was founded by Zuckerberg. The main idea behind this social media site is that users can re-create their offline social web online through the creation of profiles that contain their individual information. Some many functions and attributes are contained in Facebook. The table below illustrates the core attributes of Facebook and the default privacy settings for each attribute. To achieve a more limiting view, the user has to manually change the settings.

Table 2.2 Attributes of Facebook and their default privacy settings


Default Privacy setting

Basic information: mobile phone number, email, birthdate, address


Background picture/profile picture


Education and work: high school, college, professional skills, workplace


Other information: language, gender, political views, religious views


Places of residence including hometown and current city


Facebook profiles and names of family members as well as relationship status


Tagged images

Friends and friends of those tagged in the image

Videos, thoughts, or pictures posted on the timeline



2.2.2 Instagram

Compared to Facebook, Instagram exhibits limited functionality. In this social media site, users don’t share particular individual information as they can do on Facebook. Instagram’s main functionality is posting videos and photos. The site is designed to serve as a large cooperative online photo album. Users can post videos up to 1 min long. When users post a video or an image, they can tag the exact location of the image to share it with their followers by adding the location of the image on a map then uploading it on their timeline. Users have a choice to decide whether they want their profiles private or public. Instagram also introduced another attribute known as direct messages which allow users to send private messages to other users whom they follow. The one who is receiving the message does not need to be following the sender to receive the message.

2.2.3 Twitter 

Twitter is a social network that allows users to post text messages called tweets. Tweets refer to messages that go up to the limit of 280 characters. The profile of a user is public by default however users can restrict their profile and change the settings to private. Users can add individual content to their profiles and this content is always public regardless of whether the user’s tweets are public or private. The table below shows Twitter’s options of user-profiles and default privacy settings

Table 2.3 Twitter’s options of user-profiles and default privacy settings


Default privacy setting

Profile name and username


Image (background and profile)


Bio (brief information about the user)


Location (user’s city or country of residence)


Website ( user’s website if they have one)



2.2.4 Snapchat

Snapchat is a video/picture message social networking site that has acquired a lot of popularity since its introduction in 2011. In 2016, the site has more than 100 daily users (Tweney, 2016), a figure that has risen to over 240 million daily active users in 2020 (Statista, 2020). The main functionality of the social media site is that it enables users to send videos or images to other users that last up to only 10 seconds. When the video or image is sent/viewed, it cannot be opened again since it is deleted automatically and users are not able to save it directly from the site. Besides, Snapchat has a feature known as “Snapchat Story” that enables users to post several pictures or 10-second videos that are available for viewing for only 24 hours. Friends are the default setting in this application. Nevertheless, users can make the site public or limit it to a personalized view for particular friends. Snapchat is restricted to these two key functions based on user-generated content.

2.2.5 You tube

YouTube is a video-sharing networking service where users can watch, like, comment, share and upload their videos. Users can search for and watch videos. They can also create their own YouTube channels and upload videos to the channels. Users can follow other users or subscribe to other users’ YouTube channels. There is also the functionality of organizing videos and grouping them to create playlists. When users upload videos to YouTube, the videos become public by default, hence anyone can see the video. However, the site allows users to switch videos to private or unlisted. YouTube was launched in 2005 as one of the services that competed to eradicate technical obstacles to the extensive sharing of videos online (Burgess & Green, 2009). The site offered a very simple, coherent interface that enabled users to upload, post and watch streaming videos with the need for a high level of technical knowledge. According to Burgess & Green, 2009, YouTube was later acquired by Google in October 2006. The site has gradually become popular, and since 2008, it has habitually been one of the top ten sites which are visited most worldwide (Morreale, 2014). Roughly a decade later, the site has become the third most popular site in the world with a million advertisers and availability in 61 languages (Kim, 2012).

2.3 Social Networking and Privacy

Technology has had a profound influence on society in surprising and inventive ways. In the 21st century, social networking has become one of the biggest influences. More than 2 billion people are using several networking applications and sites to interact in real-time, share videos and photos (Osatuyi, 2013). The utilisation of social media sites has progressed to include individuals of all ages like the young, the very young, the middle-aged, and even the old. Almost everyone around the globe, including politicians, have sought to make use of social networks to interact and engage with their followers (Perin, 2015). The growth of social networks has increased at a speed that leaves few mechanisms for safeguarding the privacy of users. This has increased concerns over the safety and privacy of users’ information. Social networking sites have enabled instant communication and information sharing, but security and privacy is a critical issue that threatens users and their personal information n social networking sites (Donath, 2007). The main reason for this is because social media sites encourage users to disclose a lot of personal information by offering to give them a better experience if they reveal the information (Luo et al., 2009).  When a new user signs up to Facebook, he/she is frequently asked to update his/her profile with more individual details including hometown, date of birth, school, or workplace in order to enjoy the experience and find more friends (Luo et al., 2009). Social network sites provide various services that come with different controls and privacy settings. Threats from social networks can be broken down into two categories namely: security and privacy.

2.3.1 Security and Privacy

The terms security and privacy often intersect and may be utilized reciprocally by researchers and users. Thus, to present a more precise explication, the central terms, security, and privacy, are defined as below with regards to social networking sites. In social networking sites, security threats emanate from the technical network susceptibilities (Altshuler et al., 2013). According to Chi (2011), the Secure Enterprise 2.0 Forum pinpointed and listed several major security risks that could take place when social networks are being used which are: cross-site scripting, inadequate authentication, cross-sit forgery of requests, leakage of information, phishing, injection flaws, the integrity of information, and inadequate anti-automation.

Privacy, on the other hand, is generally involved with the degree of control over user’s information flow including, storage, access to, management, transfer, and exchange of that content (Altshuler et al., 2013). Users have the choice to decide who can view their posted information whenever they post their content. Nevertheless, their privacy is breached if other parties gather their content and utilize it without the approval of the user, which shows that the user didn’t exhibit control over their content. Violations of privacy in social networking sites emerge from four distinct sources and are examined with regards to who has the potential to invade the privacy of users.

  1. Internet Service Providers: Some nations have put across a requirement that internet service providers should gather information from their users for purposes of censorship. For instance, this may include the content that users view on social media sites. This content can be assembled by governments to identify terrorist activities. Nevertheless, internet service providers also sell users’ content to advertising corporations. For instance, NebuAd’s CEO, which is an American-based online advertising organization, mentioned that the company’s ads are personalized to users according to data collected and obtained from sources such as internet service providers (Narayan et al., 2009).
  2. Social networking site service providers/administrators: This comprises the developers of social networking sites. Depending on the privacy standard that a user has settled on, they might possess usage rights and ownership of the user’s information. The latest client-server architecture for social networking sites essentially implies that users have to count on social media sites to guard all the data that they have submitted in their accounts since they have no other choice. Nevertheless, service providers of social media sites gain various advantages from gathering, analyzing, and sharing the information of users, particularly for advertising. Since the service providers have the legal right and power to use the data as they wish, privacy advocates and researchers have put forward serious concerns on privacy breaches and have tried to rectify this disproportionate power (Gao et al., 2011). Researchers have pointed to several alternative social networking site architectures as justification. These suggestions uphold that users of social media sites should control the concrete privacy policies regarding who has access to their data. To impose this suggestion of a user-specified policy, the social media sites must store users’ data with encryption to ensure no other party, including the service providers, has access to the content unless the user gives them the permission to access or view the data. For example, this may include the use of localized storage that social media users can choose where their data gets stored in the network (Baden et al., 2009). Even so, this proposal has not been implemented by any of the frequently used social media sites.
  3. Third-party sites and applications: most social networking sites provide third-party applications access to their sites. For example, programs such as quizzes and games that are consolidated into social media sites are third party sites whose purpose is to add functionality for users (Cutillo, 2014). Such programs are designed by third-party engineers and often have limited security measures (Cheng et al., 2013). In a few cases, third-party programs are operated by fully distinct entities, and they can access user’s data (Cheng et al., 2013). The gathered information can then be utilized for various reasons including sending customized and user-targeted ads, forwarding spam to contacts of users or conducting market analysis without the user’s consent and awareness, which breaches users’ privacy. Besides, users have to permit third-party sites to access their private information before using them, since this access is needed for some application to affect the functionality. For example, a third-party application that deals with horoscopes on Facebook must be aware of the user’s date of birth. Sadly, neither the service provider of the social media site nor the users understand exactly which section of information is required for the applications. Consequently, users have no choice other than to trust the programs to accurately gather just the data they require. Besides, there is no mechanism to monitor how these applications handle users’ individual information. This allows the applications to possibly exploit users’ private data. For instance, “Compare Friends”, which is a popular Facebook third party application assured to protect the privacy of users when they utilized the application and conveyed opinions regarding their friends. Nevertheless, it was later revealed that Facebook proposed to sell that data to other users (Singh et al., 2009).
  4. Users in the social networks: Other users comprise two groups namely trusted users and malicious attackers. Trusted users refer to anyone who is granted access to users’ data by the user for instance friends or followers. Malicious attackers refer to anyone who attempts to gain access to the profile of a user either through deception or generating attacks against the user’s account.

The privacy concept has stimulated great attention from the general press and scholars (Patil &Kobsa, 2009). Privacy does not have a single straightforward and clear definition. It is defined based on the context of its use; for example, during the period of non-electronic magazines, newspapers, and print images, privacy was defined as “the right to be left alone” (Warren & Brandeis, 1890). When writers compose stories about individuals in newspapers or magazines and publish the individual’s photos without their accord, this can be viewed as privacy invasion since those individuals have a right to be let alone and without their images been posted in public, particularly if they have not agreed to it (Cutillo et al., 2011).

Nevertheless, new communications have surfaced with the advancement of technology throughout the years, allowing users more choices to exchange and explore information. Sources of communication such as social networking sites have users’ data as their major raw material, which users provide about themselves. Hence, privacy definition means a bit different in this setting, since users can often decide to upload or not upload their data. In social networking sites, privacy is described as the ability of an individual to control how their private data is obtained, processed, managed, and share to and by other entities (Cutillo et al., 2011).

2.4 Social networks and the issue of privacy

Most people acknowledge the benefits of social networking sites particularly with regards to instant messaging and information-sharing. Even so, the privacy issue has brought up numerous concerns regarding social networks. Most users are worried that the staff who work in the social media sites may access their data, which they may use against them (Mohamed & Ahmad, 2012). There are regular claims that staff at various levels in the firm may reveal private information like users’ data for various purposes. Some staff may obtain the data and share it with external people to try accessing the user’s information. This may be one reason why some users have their commercial websites and accounts hacked into regardless of the security they use to keep their accounts safe (Altshuler, 2012). There are often cases where staff become unprincipled and take confidential information with them. Although such cases are uncommon, organizations can hardly do anything to prevent them. Some users think that unknown people may use their data to get them (Fogel & Nehmand, 2016). In a study conducted by Fogel and Nehmnad (2016), 22% of university learners were worried that strangers might use their personal data to know their areas of residence while 40% believed that strangers might use their information in social networks to identify their learning schedules. The majority of the learners provided their class schedules and residence location on their Facebook profiles. The learners felt that it is necessary to have a form of security that allows only the friends they are linked to in the profiles to view their personal information. While this may be achieved through altering privacy settings, the learners felt that outsiders can access their personal details.  With social networking sites intruding into users’ lives, there has been a new hypothesis professing the “end of privacy”, which is a problematic debate that requires serious consideration (Tubaro et al., 2014). This implies a massive change in our societies’ behaviour and has transformed our political, regulatory, and cultural existence. The impact can be felt at the social level and it has affected how businesses develop and observe privacy laws and policies and they handle business associations with their shareholders. When using social media sites, individuals chose to share their personal data by uploading and posting images: however, they may not have the knowledge that they are disclosing other private details about themselves. According to Barnes (2006), many observers have observed that social media users relinquish their privacy to the advantage of having their online and digital traces open and visible. However, some consequences come with this technology. The following list constitutes the issues related to privacy that users might encounter when using social networking sites.

2.4.1 Identity Theft

Identity theft refers to the “misuse of another person’s identity, such as name, social security number, driver’s license details, credit card numbers, and bank account numbers” (Denning, 1999). User’s private data can be exploited for financial benefits or to physically falsify the user to entities such as employers, enforcement laws or medical providers. The revealing nature of social networking sites has made them an abundant source of theft of identity attacks since users voluntarily give their individual information online. The 2014 annual report on identity fraud which was carried by Javelin Strategy and Research (2013) revealed that a huge social media site fraud attack was carried out in which fraudsters duplicated users’ profiles misappropriating their identity and forwarding follower requests to other users. When the other users accepted the requests, the fraudsters would acquire all the user’s personal details and forward phishing emails to the people in the users’ contacts list. The emails had banking malware which once clicked would collect bank account and credit card information from infected smartphones or computers. These gadgets would then join a system of infected gadgets called the “Butterfly Botnet”.  The attack led to $840 million of fraud losses. Though some of the individuals accountable for the fraud were arrested, the action represents an instance of the risks of revealing too many personal details or mindlessly consenting to friend requests thinking that they are harmless, when it could profoundly influence the security of an individual’s identity and the identity of their authorized contacts.

In recent, users of Facebook have been cautioned about an intelligent new fraud, where the attacker misappropriates one individual’s online identity then forwards a hopeless request for money to their friends. The plot of the fraud can look like the following: “I travelled abroad and all my personal items, documents, and money have been stolen. Kindly send me $700 to get home then I will repay once I get home.” Since the profile resembles the friend’s profile, sympathetic friends can be duped into sending cash to the fraudster, thinking they are assisting their friend who needs help (He et al., 2014). This is only an example showing how the theft of identity can be carried out on social networking sites in a conventional manner. However, these kinds of conventional attacks are easy to detect and identify because users who are targeted by the attackers can see that no shared grounds like shared friends exist (Bilge et al., 2009). Nevertheless, Bilge et al., (2009) mention that theft of identity attacks can be very dynamic and are categorized into two kinds: profile cloning attack and cross-site profile cloning attack.

Profile cloning attacks: In this attack, the fraudster creates a counterfeit profile in the same network, using the target’s picture and name, and forwards friend requests to the target user’s friends. On social networks, names are not always distinctive, and users may have similar names. When the user accepts the fraudster’s friend request, the attacker can rebuild the target user’s digital network to make the counterfeit identity more credible to other users.

Cross-site profile cloning attacks: In this attack, the fraudster seeks to copy the identity of the user from one social networking site to another site that the user does not have an account yet. The attacker then attracts the user’s friends from other social networking sites. Factors that facilitate theft of identity in social networking sites

Identity Theft Resource Center (2016) identified several factors that contribute to theft of identity on social networking sites.

  • Applying no privacy settings or low level of privacy: Most of the social networking sites’ defaults have numerous public attributes or are set to public. Setting up social networking site privacy improperly can disclose user’s data to attackers and outsiders (Zheleva et al., 2012).
  • Consenting to friend requests from strange people and users: Social networking sites are built on a self-chosen network of friends, colleagues, and family. Users populate their profiles with private and personal data assuming that their friends or followers are all trustworthy. As earlier mentioned, fraudsters can easily access personal data by seeking access to the private profiles of users. If the user fails to establish if they know the contact on a personal level, a complete outsider can see their private data.
  • Using or downloading free programs to use in one’s social networking profile: Most of the social media sites permit third parties to itemize their programs on users’ timelines. Such programs can be in form of games, quizzes, or other types of applications. Once the users start using these programs, he/she allows them to access his/her personal profile.
  • Providing other people with the details of a user’s account password.
  • Taking part in random questionable online quizzes and games from third-party applications in the social network, which might have malignant aims to obtain individual details by requesting the user to disclose their information.
  • Opening links that redirect the user to other sites, even if a trusted friend has forwarded the link. These URLs may be malignant and can hack and misappropriate user’s profile data.
  • Submitting to phishing/email scams that forward URLs to the user informing them to update their account profiles. Cybercriminals can develop websites that have an identical user interface which is presented as the introductory page of social media site so that a user can populate their login information.

The effects of identity theft are both socially and financially costly, for the user whose identity was misappropriated and for other friends who might get defrauded through the stolen identity. Fraudsters can misappropriate an individual’s identity from social networking sites, including their private information and images, to mislead another person. For instance, Fisher (2015) revealed that a woman fell victim to an online fraud on Facebook, where she lost $41,000 New Zealand Dollar. The fraudster misappropriated another individual’s identity and images, then created a Facebook account to commence his fraud (Fisher, 2015). The scammer approached the lady through Facebook and began a romantic association with her for about one and a half years. During this period, the attacker sent the woman images of the individual from whom identity was stolen, saying it was him. He proceeded to inform her that he had been injured and required money to pay for hospital charges or else he would succumb to the injuries (Fisher, 2015). This shows how attackers and fraudsters can steal data from user’s profiles if they do not have appropriate privacy settings, and launch attacks using the information.

2.4.2 Data mining in social networks

The two methods for gathering information from social networking sites are screen-scraping and crawling APIs (Narayan & Shmatikov, 2009). For instance, Mislove et al., (2007) utilized crawling over 11.3 million digital profiles to assess the layouts of various social networking sites for academic reasons. Majority of the social networking sites have ceased publishing their APIs due to security concerns, but screen-scraping can be done using relevant sources. The European Court of Justice prohibited web-scrapping because it is considered an infringement of intellectual property. In the United States, operators of websites can prosecute screen-scrapers based on laws of copyright and trespassing to chattels (Mclean & Samavi, 2015). However, screen-scraping still happens through illegal technical mechanisms and can lead to two security and privacy breaches:

  • If malicious attackers manage to screen-scrape social networking sites, they can acquire a lot of contact details and names which they can use to launch widespread attacks like phishing and spamming attacks.
  • Research organizations collect user’s information without their approval or the consent of the website operators. With the necessary tools, they can gather millions of user’s digital data and offer it to other organizations for buying, for instance, marketing organizations. It can be contended that this data has been made public and that users populated this data in the public domain; thus, anyone can use it freely. Nevertheless, screen-scraping organizations do not request users for consent to use their data, which leads to privacy breaching and ethical concerns.

2.4.3 Connecting users across various domains with location information

Online traces are readily generated throughout every interaction with the internet and technology. This ranges from cell towers linking and routing telephone calls to organizations documenting credit card operations for purchases of products; from images taken using gadgets, to status updates on social networking sites. The fact that online traces of users can be integrated and linked together over various datasets and domains is interesting but also disturbing. This can be seen in programs that collect data about the behaviour of users from multiple-domain datasets (Riederer et al., 2016). Most of the smartphone apps and social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram record users’ exact geographical whereabouts. This significantly adds to the number of parties who can acquire data about users’ location and make use of that information (Riederer et al., 2016). Though the gathered information may be recorded infrequently, these datasets are linked with users’ daily lives, which makes the datasets very rich and acquainted, and they can reflect identifiable patterns of an individual’s life (Riederer et al., 2016). A recent study by De Montjoye et al., (2013) revealed that having a minimal amount of location information is adequate to establish a user’s digital identity. Furthermore, this data can be used to extrapolate various sociological features, such a race, gender, friendship, or social status (Riederer et al., 2016).

2.4.3 Uploaded photos’ Exif data

Exif data refers to Exchangeable image file format which is a standard for digital images, including images on smartphones.  When a photo is taken, its metadata is stored in the Exif format. The list below shows what constitutes the metadata that is stored about an image (Kumar et al., 2016):

  • Details regarding the exact time and date that the image was taken
  • Device or camera settings including serial and model number
  • GPS data (latitude, latitude, longitude)

In most cameras and smartphones, Exif data is saved automatically and without the user’s awareness unless they have disabled this feature. When these pictures are uploaded to social networking sites, they pose security and privacy concerns since users’ social sites can be accessed by individuals who may manage to obtain the Exif data and exploit it for malignant intentions that may be harmful to the user since the information extracted can disclose the user’s geographical location. This is more like the user announcing their residential address online and availing it to the public domain (Warner, 2014).

2.5 Social Media Sites and their Privacy Policies

This section places a strong emphasis on five social media sites and their privacy policies. It outlines Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube and the pertinent segments of their privacy policies, general privacy settings as well as security and privacy concerns. All the information about privacy policies was collected from each of the social media site’s most current publication of privacy policies. A privacy policy is created to provide users with details regarding how their information will be gathered, stored, utilized, and shared (Talib et al., 2016). The terms and conditions dictate what the user has to consent to if they wish to use the social network. The privacy policy is part of the elements that the user agrees to when they accept the terms and conditions. It is a requirement for every user who wishes to join a social networking site to accept their terms and conditions. Most of the sites have a compulsory button or check box which dictates that the user must agree to the terms and conditions. Most users agree blindly to these privacy policies, often because of the amount of time required to read them as well as the legal language utilized in the policies which makes them difficult to comprehend (Perrin, 2015)

2.5.1 Facebook

Facebook monitors and records all activities on the web when the user is actively logged into Facebook (Felix, 2012). Facebook utilizes cookies to track the background of users’ interests and behaviour, for advertising reasons. This tracking invades the privacy of users. Throughout the years, Facebook has grown less restrictive with default privacy settings. Previously, Facebook used to limit individual details for all its functionalities exclusively to Facebook users. At the present, most of the site’s default functionalities are public and users have the choice to set their own privacy settings. The accessibility of information on Facebook has increased exponentially since 2005 (McKeon, 2010). In 2005, users’ individual information was available only to friends and maybe Facebook users at most. Information availability has extended to constitute all internet users.

Based on its Data Policy, Facebook gathers the following data from users without their consent and without compensating them:

  • Location of all images users post on their walls or forward to others, as well as details like when the file was created or the photo was taken.
  • Information regarding users’ activities such as what they view while logged in, the frequency and duration of their activity. Nevertheless, there is no evidence of whether the content viewed is only on Facebook pages or even other web activities that the user undertakes while logged on Facebook.
  • Device details: Facebook gathers data about the devices the users have utilized to connect to Facebook, irrespective of whether it is a computer or a phone. These details include:
  1. The devices’ operating system, the versions and model of the hardware, device settings, software, and file types and names, battery, signal strength, and other identifiers.
  2. The specific physical location of the gadget, either through Bluetooth, GPS, or Wi-Fi signals.
  3. Details about the device’s connection such as the ISP, browser type, IP address, and phone number.

Although Facebook allows users to disable personalized advertisements, it also states in its data policy that it uses the above information to enhance users’ experience by providing personalized advertisements.

2.5.2 Instagram

A user’s profile on Instagram can be either completely private or completely public. Users who want to post private videos or images about themselves can change the settings to private. This can provide them with a sense of security and a conviction that only their choice of followers can view their private posts. Nevertheless, Instagram is not free from security flaws that have the potential to threaten the privacy of users while online. In 2015, there was a discovery of a privacy flaw that revealed a great number of videos and pictures that users thought were private (Choi & Sung, 2018). The flaw in the system happened with videos/images that were posted in public which the user made private later. Any user who had a link to the video/photo could view them even after they were made private. This may also occur to content that has been posted in a private account. Furthermore, Instagram permits individuals to share their displayed content to other social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and Flickr. When users with private accounts share their videos/photos to other social networking sites while simultaneously posting on Instagram, their content is viewable by other users as long as they have the link to the content. After the incident was reported, Instagram declared that they had resolved the issue with a fresh update which makes images/videos private even despite being previously public (Choi & Sung, 2018).

Based on its privacy policy, Instagram collects the following information from users (Instagram, 2020):

  • Sign-up details: Email address, password, and username.
  • Profile details: profile image, first and last names, phone number.
  • User Content: all posted content such as videos, images, comments, and other information that is not specified.
  • Contact list: including details regarding the user’s contacts in their phone. However, Instagram asks users for permission to access the contact list.
  • Web activities.
  • How users use the site. Instagram utilizes cookies to gather these details.
  • Logon data regarding the user’s use of Instagram, including IPs used to access the sites, view of pages, domain names, and any other related data.
  • Device details. The site may access devices utilized by users to gather these data which is used by third parties to personalize advertisements. There is nowhere within the privacy policy where it is stated if users can disable such technologies that track their devices.

In its privacy policy, Instagram clearly states that deactivation, termination, or deletion of an account won’t lead to the vanishing of the users’ data; it might still be searchable or viewable through archived copies or other mechanisms. Besides, the organization explains that the user owns their content, but posting it to the site provides Instagram with an unlimited license to utilize the content. If a user’s account is private, Instagram keeps the content private as well. If the account is public, the site has a license to make use of the content.

2.5.3 Snapchat

Snapchat has grown popular due to its reputation for safeguarding the privacy of users. The concept behind the site includes (Snapchat, 2020):

  1. Users can forward a snap (a video or a picture) to particular users, ad the snap can be viewed only once, plays for not more than 10 seconds after which it is automatically deleted.
  2. Users can send snaps with their stories, which can be seen by anyone (only friends or a personalized group of friends) depending on the established privacy settings. The story is viewable with only 24 hours after which it vanishes from both the sender’s and receiver’s application. Besides, users are not able to save snaps received from others. They can only screenshot or capture their screens but Snapchat alerts the user that a screenshot of their snap has been taken. Users have a false impression of privacy towards Snapchat which is influence by the fact their content is not saved and it what they send cannot be tracked by others. This makes users indulge in sharing their very private videos and pictures and even those of their family and friends.

However, according to Snapchat’s privacy policy, the site stores all the content shared by users in their storage units as well as with third parties, including partners and service providers (Velten et al., 2017). Furthermore, there are numerous third party sites that save user’s content without their knowledge. These sites access Snapchat, stipulating that there are security flaws in the system that Snapchat developers are yet to tackle (AlOshan, 2019). iPhone users can also use a third party application know as iFolder to recover expired videos that they received through Snapchat. With regards to privacy settings, the terms of service in Snapchat state that users can adjust their privacy settings in some functionalities regarding who can view their content. Users can decide on who sends them snaps and who views their stories. There are two choices for users with regards to who sends them snaps: friends or everyone. Everyone means that all Snapchat users, including those who are yet to be friends, can send media. With regards to viewing stories, users can choose custom, friends, or everyone. In the custom choice, users can block specific friends from seeing their story. According to its privacy policy, Snapchat gathers the following data from its users (Snapchat, 2020):

  1. Contact details: Snapchat gives users an option to populate their mobile number to find other Snapchat users among their phone contacts. However, choosing this option allows Snapchat to gather users’ contact details which means that even those who are not on Snapchat are affected and their contacts are acquired involuntarily.
  2. Photos and camera: The site permits users to have their personal Snapchat pictures saved. However, to do this, the user has to allow Snapchat access to their images, which indicates that the reason for the access is to save snaps. However, the privacy policy indicates that Snapchat will gather data from the device’s photos and camera, which is delusive. Users think that the site will only save their images, but in practice, Snapchat gets access and gathers images from the device’s picture album.
  3. Logon details: Snapchat states in its privacy policy that it gathers data about how the user utilizes the application. The site gathers device details, IP addresses, viewed pages, cookies that distinctly identify the user’s device, and details about the pages previously visited by the user before logging out. Since the site is a mobile application and does not have access to a web browser, the kind of pages that the application monitors are not clear.
  4. Location details: The site gathers user’s exact location through Wi-Fi, GPS, cell towers, and access towers. The site asks the user for permission to access their location when the user wants to use functionalities like GeoFilters.

2.5.4 Twitter

Twitter profiles have fewer categories of information as compared to other social networking sites like Facebook.  A Twitter profile contains the user’s name, header photo, profile photo, location, a bio of 160-characters, link to their website, birthday, followers and following, and user’s tweets. Twitter focuses not on the user’s specific information but on what they tweet. Tweets barely have personally recognizable details such as email, telephone numbers, or home addresses (Humphreys et al., 2010). However, the tweets contain details regarding the activities that the user is involved in within their offline world. Displaying sensitive details through tweets can affect a user’s non-digital life. For example, if a user tweets about going for a vacation, this makes them susceptible to theft. With regards to security, Twitter has also had concerns. In 2013, the site announced there had been hacking of over 250,000 accounts (Vinayakumar et al, 2019). In a complex operation, an unidentified attacker managed to obtain over 250, 0000 accounts’ emails, usernames, and passwords.

Twitter has two distinct organizations that gather user’s data. For users who are located in the U.S, Twitter Inc. gathers the information. For users from other parts of the world, Twitter International Company gathers the information. Twitter collects the following data (Twitter, 2020):

  1. Basic account details: The data the user populates when logging in. this includes name, email address, and username. Twitter lists names and usernames publicly, making them searchable through search engines.
  2. Additional profile details: User’s biography, cover or profile picture, location, date of birth, website.
  3. Tweets, Lists, Following, and other Public details. This includes tweets’ metadata such as location, time of tweeting, time zone, language, and the client the user used to tweet.
  4. Location details
  5. Links that the user clicks as well as where it redirects them.
  6. Cookies: persistent and session cookies are used to gather Twitter usage data.
  7. Log information: IP address, type of operating system, browser, visited pages, exact location details, mobile service provider, mobile device ID and type, cookie details, and search terms.
  8. Widget information: third party applications that have Twitter widgets or buttons automatically forward log information to Twitter. This data is mostly utilized for tailoring advertisements.
  9. Commercial services: Some services provided by Twitter require the user to give their payment details including their shipping address and credit card information, which are stored discreetly.

When users decide to deactivate their accounts, Twitter still has the right to the users’ content. Twitter starts deleting the account after 30 days. Even so, after deactivation or deletion of the user’s account, their public tweets do not disappear from third parties or search engines. Besides, Twitter can change its terms and conditions on its policy whenever it deems fit. The user is then notified through the email or the official user account. Even if users don’t check their notifications and continue to access the sites after changes have been made to the policy, they will still be bound by the amended policy. Twitter states that users are required to carefully review the content they post to the public because as soon as the content is posted in an open profile, it is sent immediately to Twitter’s partners as well as third parties through APIs and SMS.

2.5.5 You Tube

YouTube provides users with a platform where they can discover, view, and share videos as well as other content. the terms and conditions by Google state that most of its services allow users to communicate with other users, both trusted and untrusted, and share content with them (Google, 2020). The terms indicate that Google may utilize user’s data for third-party marketing, but reveal that Google does not sell users’ individual details to third parties. The terms also indicate that Google may show targeted ads to its users, but also states that users can change their interests and decide whether their data can be used for personalization of ads. Users can also turn off or on specific advertising services. Google also reviews its practices of data gathering, storage, and processing, including measures of physical security, to prevent illegal access to their system (Google, 2020). If a user has a YouTube account, they may choose to display their profile photo, profile name, the actions they take on their account, or third party sites connected to their YouTube account. The privacy policy states that when users share content publicly, it becomes accessible via search engines. When a user leaves comments on a post, their photo and name appear next to their activity. However, the privacy policy states that users can manage their contact details and decide whether their photo and name are displayed next to their activity. Google also states that they gather data about the user’s activity which may include videos they view, search terms, audio and video information, and people with whom the user communicates or shares content with.



Chapter 3: Research Methodology

3.1 Research Questions

The research questions of the study were designed based on the reviewed literature. According to the literature, it is clear that social networking sites have widespread security and privacy issues. Besides, this is a developing field in academic literature, specifically because the most widespread social networking sites and apps have surfaced recently and there is relatively limited research that has been done in the area. Hence, this research aimed to identify the level of awareness and knowledge that users have regarding their privacy when using social media sites; the individual characteristics that affect how users disclose their information and how they set their privacy settings; and how the user’s perception of privacy affects the extent of personal information they reveal in social media sites. To achieve the aim of this study, three research questions were established.

Question 1: What is the level of awareness and knowledge that users have regarding their privacy when using social media?

A substantial part of this study is based on privacy policies and the knowledge of users about the policies. This question aimed to survey users with regards to how much they understand and acknowledge the privacy policies of each social media site to identify their levels of awareness.

Question 2: What are the individual characteristics that affect how users disclose their information and their privacy settings on social media sites?

This question aimed at understanding how attributes like gender, age, and education affect how users disclose their information and how they set their privacy settings.

Question 3: How does users’ perception of privacy affect the extent of personal information they reveal on social media sites?

3.2 Research Design

To achieve the goals of this research, the researcher needed to gather primary and secondary data. An online survey was designed to collect primary data. Secondary data was also gathered through the synthesis of studies on social networks and privacy. The two methods focused on five different social networking sites: Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube. As explained in the literature review, each of these sites has a distinct functionality and purpose and handles different types of personal data. Since each site presents and requests various types of information, data were collected independently for each social networking site. The research was both empirical and descriptive. It was empirical because it was based on data and aimed to reach a judgement that was validated by the survey and the synthesis (Lambert, 2012). The study was descriptive because it utilized a survey to collect primary data, hence it aimed at describing the existing environment of social networking sites without the researcher exerting control. The synthesis was also descriptive because its main objective was to determine the current level of knowledge and awareness that users of social networking sites have.

3.2.1 Description of the Survey

The researcher designed the survey to acquire an understanding of the key areas on the use of social networks. The survey identified the amount and type of information that users reveal and the type of privacy settings they apply based on whether the information is availed to the public or is made private. The survey comprised 4 sections and 50 questions, which ranged from multiple-choice questions to filter questions. The first two parts focused on general questions to provide an overview of how users use social networking sites, their level of activity, how they view the privacy of their content in the sites, and their level of confidence in the social media sites’ owners. The aim of identifying users’ level of perception of privacy was to compare their views on privacy with their actions. The first section was the demographics part which was designed to collect details like gender, education, and age to group from the sample in statistical categories. The second part focused on the use of social networks and key privacy issues. This part aimed to gain an overall understanding of the user’s confidence levels and perceptions of privacy in social networking sites. There were general questions including what inspired the user to join the social media site and the amount of time they spent on these sites. There were also more detailed questions including whether users go through the entire terms and conditions in the privacy policy, why they do not read the policies, and whether privacy was a real issue for them. The responses were then compared with the users’ actual use of specific social networking sites.

The last five sections were more specific with each section focused on one social media site from the list of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube. Respondents who did not use a specific site were allowed to skip the section. The questions in each section aimed to gather data regarding the user’s actions and behaviours in the network. Since each site has a distinct privacy policy and shows varying data about users, the questions were of a similar structure but varied in detail. The questions inquired from the respondents about the kind of names they populated on each social site. The objective of this question was to determine how users guarded their online identity against attackers or other users. The responses of this question were merged with the responses of other questions to compare and determine whether users shared more accurate and public details about themselves and whether their identities could be linked across various networks, which potentially increases the extent of individual information they share about themselves online.

The other questions involved yes/no response questions that were particular to each of the social sites. These questions aimed to provide insight into user behaviour on social networking sites which can significantly impact their security and privacy. Each of the sections also included questions regarding the privacy settings applied by users in their accounts. These questions aimed to identify and determine the extent of privacy protection on users’ accounts. The outcomes identified the type of private information that users shared publicly and what remained private in the various social networking sites.

There were also questions about privacy policies that focused on legally bound actions that users can do on the sites based on the privacy policy they agreed to. These questions aimed to determine the level of awareness and knowledge of privacy policies among uses.

3.2.2 Synthesis of Studies

This method synthesized research papers on social media that have used both quantitative and qualitative methods. The aim was to determine how user’s privacy has been affected by social media with regards to how much personal information users reveal on social media sites, how users respond to requests from strangers, and users’ level of awareness of the privacy policies. For the synthesis, Education Library, Google Scholar, and JSTOR were used to carry out the literature searches. The researcher also carried out online researches at the EBSCO Information Services to gather a range of peer-reviewed resources, scholarly articles, and books that fit in the area of research. With most of the studies on social media being general, the researcher had to further filter the searches to find resources on privacy and security in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube, that would be most appropriate for the research. 

3.3 Data Collection

For the survey, online questionnaires were distributed to the participants via the social media platform, email, and Facebook. For the synthesis, four recent research papers on social media privacy and security were chosen and analyzed. During the research, the researcher looked for articles related to topics like social media privacy and security.

3.3.1 Target population and sample size

The survey targeted users of five social networks: Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube. The sample consisted of 200 students and 40 staff from American Public University both male and female aged between 18 and 70 years old. A simple random sampling was employed to select the participants.

3.3.2 Reliability and Validity

To ensure the validity of the study, the literature on privacy in social networks was carefully assessed to map out the research questions. Privacy policies of social networks were fully and carefully read and examined to support the aim of the research. To maintain the reliability of the study, a pilot test was performed to verify that the questions had the correct wording and to get responses from the respondent about anything that required more clarification.

3.5 Data Analysis

To analyze the findings, filtering was first used to sort out the findings to focus on a certain data subset. This allows the researcher to view particular participants’ responses to particular questions (Lsigier et al., 2012). The information was then transferred into SPSS for statistical analysis. Chi-square tests were performed to understand and measure the variations in users’ behaviour of privacy settings, individual information exposure variables with age, education, gender, and privacy ranking for each of the five social networking sites.

3.6 Limitations/Delimitations of the Study

The survey used standardized questions which made it difficult to ask respondents anything other than the general questions which were comprehensible by a broad range of respondents. This may interfere with the validity of the results because it limits the extent to which the researcher can comprehensively examine the topic of study. Since the sample of the study contained participants from the same institution, hence they may not be a true random sample. The researcher included only close-ended questions in the survey rather than open-ended questions to make it easier for the respondents to willingly answer the questions and have more time for survey completion

Chapter Four: Results and Discussion

4.0 Introduction

The survey outcomes were analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively according to the nature of the questions and their responses. For the quantitative part of the analysis, statistical analysis through SPSS was conducted to derive the key results of the study and identify any associations and trends in the dataset that could help answer the research questions. The findings of the synthesis, which was carried out to support the survey data, are presented.

4.1 Survey Findings

In total, 240 responses were collected, with 235 complete responses, indicating a 98% response rate. The results show that Facebook was the dominant social networking site among the five social networks, with a 68% response rate. YouTube had the least percentage of users, with a 45% response rate. The table below shows the findings and the ratings of social networking sites by survey respondents.

Table 4.1 Social networks selected by respondents

Social network




N =163










You Tube






Total participants



The results also revealed that there was a variation in the choice of social networks between males and females. The figure below reveals that most of the males (76%) in the sample utilized Facebook the most and Snapchat the least, while females utilized Facebook the least and Snapchat the most (80%).

Figure 4.1 Chart showing the variation of males versus females in the choice of social networks

The respondents were asked to indicate their gender, age, and level of education in the survey. These demographics were utilized in the analysis to identify the variations in the responses within the three demographic categories. As shown in the figure below. The number of females who responded to the survey was higher (N=124) compared to the number of males (N=113).

Figure 4.2 Gender demographics of the respondents

Age was classified into 8 categories starting from 18 years old. Figure 4.3 below reveals that respondents aged between 18 and 26 years were the dominant category in this survey at 33%.

Figure 4.3 Age demographics of the sample

The last demographic was the educational background. Table 4.2 and Figure 4.4 below display the educational background of the participants.


Table 4.2 Education demographics of the sample

Choice of answer


High School


N = 5

Working towards completion of Undergraduate studies


N = 118

Working towards completion of postgraduate studies


N= 83

Postgraduate degree/master’s/ doctoral degree


N = 34

Total participants



Figure 4.4 Showing education demographics for the sample

4.1.1 Usage of Social networks and privacy concerns

The survey revealed that most users use social networks to stay connected with family (53%) and to view news updates (34.3%). The figure below displays users’ motivations for using social networks.

Figure 4.5 Motivations for using social networks

Figure 4.6 shows the frequency of social network usage by the respondents. It reveals that most of them were regular users of social networks, with 80% using the sites daily.

Figure 4.6 Frequency of social networks use

The results also show that most of the participants were concerned about their privacy when using social networks. Figure 4.7 shows the user’s level of privacy concern.

                                      Figure 4.7 User’s level of privacy concern

4.1.2 Disclosure of Personal Information and privacy settings

The results reveal that most of the users revealed their real names with Facebook having the highest number of users who shared their full names. Snapchat had the lowest number of users who revealed their real names. Out of the five social networks that were studied, Facebook revealed the greatest number of personal information attributes like the profile picture, residence, education, friends lists, date of birth, events, visited locations, family members, and contact details. The results reveal that all the characteristics were shared with either friends or the public based on what the user has set. Most of the respondents displayed their current city, full name, and hometown to the public. The other characteristics were shared with friends. The majority of the users were found to have an image of themselves on their profile pictures. 45 % of the respondents had enabled the feature of “Nearby friends” on Facebook. 49% of the participants said they had shared videos and pictures of themselves to the public.

With regards to Snapchat, 79% of users sent videos or pictures of themselves to others. 67% said they had posted pictures and videos of their family members. 76% of the users added location details to their pictures when posting. With regards to privacy settings, 48 % of the respondents revealed that they had set their Snapchat for friends only while 32% had customized their accounts.

With regards to Instagram, most of the participants posted personal images as well as those of friends and family. 69% revealed that they included location details in their posts. 62% of the participants’ profile images contained images of themselves. The results showed 48% of the participants set their profiles as private while 52% set it as public.

With regards to Twitter, 54% of the respondents had profiles pictures with their own images. 42% also indicated that they added their location to their profiles. The majority of the respondents said that they had never posted videos or images of themselves in their tweets. The results showed that 84% of Twitter users had set their accounts to the public.

With regards to YouTube, the majority of users had their profiles set to public. 64% of the users had their pictures as profile pictures.

4.1.3 User’s Awareness of Privacy Policies

The results indicate that majority of the users did not agree with the statements extracted from the privacy policy of the social networks. Hence, the majority of the respondents did not know how their content was handled by social networks. 84% of the participants revealed that they did not carefully go through the privacy policies before signing up.

  • Impact of Age, Education, Gender and Level of Privacy Concern on Disclosure of Information and Privacy Settings

The findings indicated that gender had a substantial impact on users’ information disclosure and privacy settings. The majority of the males used their complete real names while most females had disclosed only a part of their names. Males were also likely to have their own image as the profile picture which was set to public. Males were also more likely than females to have videos or pictures available publicly. Females substantially had higher privacy settings than males. Age was not found to influence whether users used their real or fake names. Younger users were more likely to use their own images as profile pictures and have their profiles public. Younger users were also more likely to post public videos or photos. Education did not influence whether users used their real names or fake names. Less-educated participants were more likely to have their videos and pictures available to the public. The results indicated that users who had lower a level of concern about their privacy shared more, were more likely to be public and to make their videos/images public.

4.2 Synthesis Results

A study conducted by Gross & Acquisti (2005) on online social networks found that majority of U.S students did not study the privacy policies of the social networks before signing up and around two-thirds were not aware of how their individual information is gathered, shared, and used by social networks. More than 50% of the respondents revealed that they did not read the privacy policies, which means that they did adopt proper privacy settings. A study by Alalawi (2016) revealed that users have a negative attitude when it comes to reading the privacy policies of social networks. Most of the users are barely aware of what the policies state and can barely tell whether the policies enhance their privacy or not. The results also indicated that younger people of ages 16-25 had a greater risk of privacy because they made more of their individual data as available as possible to allow their friends to find and connect with them. Besides, even though the majority of the participants were concerned about their privacy, they still didn’t bother to go through the privacy policies to see whether they supported their privacy. A social experiment conducted by Johani (2016) revealed that the majority of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter users accepted follow/friendship requests from strangers, whereas users of Snapchat showed the least percentage of acceptance.



Chapter Five: Discussion

5.1 Responding to the Research Questions

Question 1: What is the level of awareness and knowledge that users have regarding their privacy when using social media?

The research examined user’s knowledge and awareness of how their individual data is gathered, processed, stored, and shared once it is on social networks. Most of the users did not know about the policies regarding how their data was handled. The majority of them also failed to go through the privacy policies before joining social networks.

Question 2: What are the individual characteristics that affect how users disclose their information and their privacy settings on social media sites?

Gender played a significant role in determining user’s disclosure of information and privacy settings. Males displayed more unconcerned and revealing behaviours, particularly in social networks that require divulging a great number of details about the user. Their content was more public and identifiable. Age also influenced the disclosure of information and privacy settings. Younger users disclosed more data about themselves and their privacy settings were less restrictive, hence potentially divulging their private identity to the public. Older users applied more restrictive settings and revealed less about themselves to the public. Education also influenced the disclosure of information and privacy settings. Less-educated users were not as concerned about their privacy as those with higher levels of education. Hence, less educated users disclosed more identifying details like complete real names, personal images, and videos, and substantial information regarding their location.


Question 3: How does users’ perception of privacy affect the extent of personal information they reveal on social media sites?

The research compared user’s privacy perceptions to their real actions on social networks to determine if their level of privacy perception influenced their extent of information disclosure. The results indicate that the less the users were concerned about their privacy in social networks, the more they shared personal details applied less restrictive policy settings.


The majority of Facebook users disclosed a lot of personal information, which makes them vulnerable to online crimes and attacks. Users of Facebook shared personal information to a greater extent compared to other social networks. Users of Twitter shared the least amount of personal information. This is because of the variations between social networks based on purpose and content. For example, Facebook contains more varieties of individual information while Twitter is mostly utilized for the posting of news. Holm (2014) asserts that the sharing of private information such as age, full names, gender, residence, and other private details can greatly support the stealing of identity. Identity thieves exploit this weakness to launch frauds and attacks on users, by using the details that users have already disclosed. The study has proven that it is very easy to access users’ profiles even when they are public. The results of the synthesis revealed that the majority of users accept friend requests from strangers. This is disturbing because it shows that it is not difficult to access personal information. It is also an alarming issue since crimes of identity theft can reach anyone. Availability of personally identifiable information enables crimes to take place, which increasingly has an emotional cost and monetary value (Al-Daraiseh et al., 2014). Most of the Facebook users have enabled the nearby feature which allows Facebook to track the precise GPS location and alert friends who are near the location. The problem with this is that even strangers whom the user has accepted as friends can know about the user’s exact location. This is especially risky for children or young users who might fall victims to child predators.





Chapter Six: Summary and Recommendations

6.1 Research Summary

The study focused on privacy in social networks with regards to the amount of information that users share and disclose on these networks. The research investigated how the three demographic variables of age, education, and gender affect users’ level of self-disclosure. The research also investigated users’ level of awareness and knowledge of privacy in social networks. Lastly, the research investigated whether users ‘perception of privacy in social networks has an impact on the amount of personal information that they reveal on social networks. The research utilized an online survey and synthesis of studies for data collection. The focus of the research was on five social networks: Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube. Each of the social networks has a distinct functionality and purpose and displays various kinds of individual information. The results revealed that Facebook had the greatest extent of information disclosure, while Twitter had the least level of information disclosure. The study also revealed that age, education, and gender had a substantial effect on users’ privacy settings and information disclosure. Generally, males, younger people, and less educated users revealed more personal information. The results showed that most of the users lack knowledge of how their content is handled by social networks and that they did not carefully go through the privacy policies before signing up. Users also displayed varying levels of concern about their privacy.

In summary, privacy is an intuitive topic and is based on the user’s view of privacy as well as the value they place on their privacy. Perceptions of privacy can differ from one user to another. It is worth emphasizing that the protection of privacy is largely an individual responsibility. The findings of this study have indicated that most of the younger people share substantial amounts of personal details about themselves on social networks, both with friends and the public. The outcomes also reveal that many users do not know anything about the privacy policies they accept when signing up with social networks and are also unaware of the extent to which the providers of social networks can legally utilise the information the user shares both intentionally and unintentionally. When users visit social networks to post content or update status, they leave behind digital traces which can result in privacy invasion and expose users to theft of identity. However, there are strategies that can be applied to enhance the privacy of users’ content and counteract the negative effects of information disclosure on social networks. The following strategies constitute recommendations on how users can improve their privacy on social networks:

  1. Research: Since most of the social media sites do not provide sufficient information regarding how information and content are retrieved, the user has the responsibility of researching any social network before signing up for an account. Most of the authorizations are requested before the downloading of an application. Hence, instead of assuming that the authorization is harmless, users should carefully read the description of the permissions and withhold from agreeing to any authorization that looks questionable. Authorization should specifically be rejected if they attempt to gain access to the user’s location, microphone, make phone calls or record audio. While some of the requests could be utilized without malignant intentions, the user should exercise caution to minimize the possibility of privacy invasion.
  2. Proactive Implementation of Privacy Settings: As soon as users sign up with social networks, they should apply privacy settings to restrict what other uses can view or access on their profiles.  The settings differ depending on the social network. Users can research the social network they wish to join and or create profiles and find out how the privacy settings can be applied and the functionalities that the social network offers to protect users’ privacy. It is important that users carefully read the settings and avoid approving settings that expose their information to the public in startling ways.
  3. Protecting Privacy from a Technical Dimension: Most of the time, users’ data is exposed to privacy and security threats while it is being transmitted through users’ devices. This means that users’ data is exposed not only to friends but also to other unrecognized parties like internet service providers, third-party sites, social network owners, and even governments. There are various methods that users can utilize to minimize the amount of data that other parties collect from them. A virtual private network is one of the most useful methods for users who wish to guard their privacy against interception by other parties or even guard their location and identity against social network providers who can gather browsing details, location, and connection. VPNs provide secure encrypted connections between a user’s device and the internet server (Venkateswaran, 2001). However, users should carefully go through the VPN’s privacy policy before subscribing to its services. If the policy indicates that the VPN stores logs of users’ data, the user should avoid the VPN because this means that their information will be collected. VPNs that truly value the privacy of users do not gather user’s browsing information.
  4. Campaigns on Safe Use of Social Networks: Social networks should organize campaigns that target the most affected groups when it comes to information disclosure. These mostly include children, teenagers, and users with low levels of education. The campaigns should aim at increasing awareness and knowledge on the proper use of social networking sites. 

6.3 Future Research

The research studied three personal attributes as variables that could influence information disclosure on social networks. Further research in this area could investigate whether other factors like culture could influence how much information users disclose on social networks. Further research could also focus on the security of social networks with regards to the technical issues in social networks that could risk users’ privacy.



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Appendix 1: Questionnaire

























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