Privacy and safety

Two-thirds of parents claim to set rules on their child’s use of social networking sites, although only 53% of children said that their parents set
such rules.

While communication with known contacts was the most popular social networking activity, 17 % of adults used their profile to communicate with
people they do not know. This increases among younger adults.

Sixty-nine per cent of adults who have a social networking page or profile used social networking sites to talk to friends or family who
they saw regularly anyway, compared to 17% of adults who used sites to talk to those they didn’t already know.

Those who talked to people they didn’t know were significantly more likely to be aged 16-24 (22% of those with a social networking page or profile) than 25-34 (7% of those with a profile).

Several areas of potentially risky behaviour are suggested by the qualitative and/or quantitative research. These include:

• leaving privacy settings as default ‘open’ – 41% of children aged 8-17 who had a visible profile had their profile set so that it was visible to anyone (Children, young people and online content quantitative research) and 44% of adults who had a current profile said their profile could be seen by anyone6 (this was more likely among those aged 18-24) (Adult Media Literacy Audit 2008);

• giving out sensitive personal information, photographs and other content (Ofcom social networking sites research/Get Safe Online Report 2007). Our qualitative research found that some users willingly gave out sensitive personal information. This was supported by the Get Safe Online research which found that 25% of registered social networking users had posted sensitive personal data about themselves on their profiles. This included details such as their phone number, home address or email address. Younger adults are even more likely to do this, with 34% of 16-24 year olds willingly posting this information;

• posting content (especially photos) that could be reputationally damaging (Ofcom Social Networking qualitative research). Examples ranged from posting provocative photos to photographs of teachers drinking and smoking being seen by their pupils and pupils’ parents;

• contacting people they didn’t know (and/or didn’t know well) online/accepting people they didn’t know as ‘friends’ (Ofcom Social Networking qualitative research) – 17% of adult users said they talked to people on social networking sites that they didn’t know and 35% spoke to people who were “friends of friends” (Adult Media Literacy Audit 2008).

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