The perception of privacy

In 2010 Facebook was receiving a lot of criticism because it had changed their privacy policy to require users to opt-out if they wished to keep their personal information private as it made most of their information publicly available (Bilton, 2010). The privacy policy around that time counted an astonishing 5,830 words, whereby Bilton (2010) compares it to the United States Constitutions, which counts, without any of its amendments, 4,543 words. For users that wanted to opt-out and change their privacy settings to hide their information from the public, they needed to go over 50 privacy settings and choosing among over 170 options. On May 26 of 2010, Facebook unveiled a simplified method for controlling privacy on the social media network, and acknowledged that their privacy settings had become to complicated. This change did however not influence the way the algorithm worked to determine, which advertisements was displayed, targeted, because the advertisement platform used anonymous data. In this respect advertisers could still target ads to Justin Bieber fans and personalise the advertising message. 

For the researchers of the paper: “Social Networks, Personalised Advertising, and Privacy Controls”, this change provided an unique experiment of how internet users’ perception of control over their personal information affect how likely they are to click on online advertising on a social networking site, in this case Facebook.

The research used data from a campaign from a non-profit organization which targeted both graduates from 20 liberal arts colleges with a reputation for supporting female education and Facebook users who had expressed affinity with 19 celebrities who had in the past made statements supporting the education of girls in Africa or African female empowerment in general. The targeted young people the were also living in the United States and are over 18 years of age. The displayed advertisements showed a picture of a female helped by the non-profit organization and a message that was unpersonalised or personalised. The personalised message showed the name of the liberal arts college or the celebrities name. The goal of the advertisement campaign was to attract more people to the Facebook page of the non-profit organization to provide more information on what their motives are and what they had done in order help poor young bright females in Africa by providing them a scholarship so that they are able to pursue a study.

The results of the study were striking in contrast to older and more traditional studies. Older studies had found that when users have low control over their privacy settings, advertisers are thought to be able to show more personalised advertisements, thus having more people click on them. This study however found that when the users were able to more easily control their privacy settings that was introduced in the middle of the campaign, the click-throughs were significantly higher after the implementation of the privacy controls. This thus suggests that improving the privacy controls of a social network site can benefit advertisers and the social network.

It will be interesting to see how and if this effect holds on other social networks such as twitter/Linkedin. Next it also might be interesting to see and understand how long this effect persists after changing the way users have control over their privacy settings.



Bilton, Nick (2010), “Price of Facebook Privacy? Start Clicking,” The New York Times, (May 12), [available at http://www.]

Tucker, C. E. (2014). Social networks, personalized advertising, and privacy controls. Journal of Marketing Research, 51(5), 546-562.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s