Facebook has been getting lots of press and pie in the face over its shifting privacy policies. Social media expert danah boyd has led criticism of Facebook’s effort to devalue privacy for its own gain. She’s even suggested that we might regulate Facebook as a utility just like electricity or water works.

A new Pew report suggests we might not need to rush to regulate Facebook or other social media to protect privacy. Young users appear to be leading the way in figuring out how to control their own privacy online:

The Pew study found, for instance, that social networkers ages 18 to 29 were the most likely to change the privacy settings on their profiles to limit what they share with others online. The percentage who did so was 71 percent, compared with just 55 percent of the 50- to 64-year-old bracket. Meanwhile, about two-thirds of all social networkers who were surveyed said they’ve tightened security settings.

The survey also determined that:

  • about half of young people in that 18-29 bracket have deleted comments that others have made on their profile, compared with just 29 percent of those ages 30 to 49 and 26 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds. The numbers were similar when it came to social networkers who removed their names from photos that were tagged to identify them.
  • When asked how much they can trust social networking sites, 28 percent of the youngest adults surveyed said “never.” A fifth in the 30-49 bracket said that and just 14 percent of those ages 50 to 64 agreed.

[Martha Irvine, “Image-Conscious Youth Rein in Social Networking,” AP via Yahoo News, 2010.05.27]

I don’t advocate a completely unregulated, Wild-West Internet. We need rules, sometimes customs and mores, sometimes laws, to make any social undertaking work.

The social Web has been widely accessible for only a few years. Our Web customs and mores are still evolving. We’re only just realizing that the Web isn’t some exotic foreign land or desert island where we can indulge our inner streaker without consequence. The more we use it, the more we’ll get a sense of how it’s all connected and how we need to behave ourselves to maintain our reputations and privacy as we see fit.