Privacy and social media: a small German study

Mary Trombley

This post is written by Felix Schmidt, a Mozilla contributor who attends the University of Constance in Constance, Germany.

In April, 2012, we did a small survey of US users’ feelings about privacy and online social networking. Since Mozilla has users spread across the entire world, we were interested in learning about how other nationalities might think about privacy.  In July, we asked 8 Germans about social networking and privacy. As in the US study, we chose a social network that is popular in Germany as a proxy.  Although 8 people cannot represent an entire nation, we did find some interesting patterns.

We found that the general opinion of the social network’s privacy policy is very negative (7/8). Participants assumed that the social network is concerned mostly about making money and less concerned with keeping their information safe (“They say that privacy is important, but in reality they use the information to make money and sell it”, “I think they pick out the interesting information and use it to make money”). Despite this negative opinion-participants still seemed to be OK with the dangers of uploading content to the site (“If people have something to hide they should not put it online”,”I guess most people know what they are getting into”). In the US study, participants seemed to like the social network’s privacy settings, but also had a similar wariness about sharing.

For protection of their own privacy, most users had turned off the public search and adjusted settings so that only friends (7/8), not friends of friends, could view their profile (“…only friends, but I think I can be found over Google”). Also the German participants used the social networking site mainly for networking and email purposes; third party sites were of hardly any interest (“It’s unnecessary and annoying, also there are the viruses”). Again, this is quite different from the American survey, where users did engage with third-party apps and games.

In conclusion, it seems that users’ views about privacy differ quite substantially between the US and Germany. German users, in general, seem to be more concerned about their online privacy.