The Facebook logo is displayed for a photograph on an Apple iPhone. (Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer)

Facebook users still fear for their privacy

Facebook users are adjusting their digital behavior following the turmoil on the platform during the 2016 presidential election, according to a new survey.

More than half of Facebook users in the U.S. said they’ve changed their privacy settings in the past year, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday. More than four in 10 users have taken a break from the social media platform over the same time frame. And a quarter have deleted the Facebook app from their phone.

Pew surveyed a national sample of 3,413 American adults who used Facebook from May 29 to June 11, following revelations that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly collected personal data on up to 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge while it worked for the Trump campaign.

The company overhauled its security settings in March and has been prompting users to review their privacy settings.

“Over recent months we have made our policies clearer, our privacy settings easier to find and introduced better tools for people to access, download, and delete their information” said a Facebook spokesperson. “We’ve also run education campaigns on and off Facebook to help people around the world better understand how to manage their information on Facebook.”

The company plans to offer a tool called “Clear History,” which will allow users to see the websites and apps that send the social media platform their information when used, and allow users to clear the information from their account and turn off Facebook’s ability to store such data.

Younger Facebook users, particularly those aged 18 to 29, were most likely to have adjusted their behavior on the platform over the past year by changing privacy settings, deleting the application or taking a hiatus, shows the survey. “There’s a common perception that young adults don’t care about privacy, but we’ve consistently found that they’re quite privacy conscious,” said Aaron Smith, the associate director of research at the Pew Research Center.

The Pew survey found that about one in 10 Facebook users downloaded the information Cambridge Analytica may have collected about them. About eight in 10 users who downloaded their personal data also elected to adjust their privacy settings, and about half have deleted the Facebook app from their phone in the last year. (Deleting the application does not delete a user’s account or data.)

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday about the company’s efforts to protect user data and prevent political interference in the U.S. midterm elections. Throughout the summer, Facebook has reported coordinated attempts by both foreign and domestic actors to spread disinformation and incite political discord.

The vast majority of Americans distrust social media companies when it comes to political impartiality. Almost three in four think it’s likely that companies such as Facebook and Twitter actively censor political views they consider objectionable, according to a Pew study released in June.

Conservatives, in particular, have become critical of Facebook and other social media platforms after the removal of posts and videos by Alex Jones and his site InfoWars, which frequently published conspiracy theories. President Donald Trump has also accused social media platforms of suppressing positive stories about him and favoring liberal news organizations.

The Pew survey found that partisanship had no impact on a person’s willingness to update privacy settings or disconnect from the social media platform. “Despite the tumult with politicians and pundits, ordinary Republicans have not been disconnecting from Facebook in any meaningful sense more than Democrats have,” Smith said. “There were no partisan differences in activity.”

A separate Pew survey, also released on Wednesday, found that most Facebook users don’t understand how the News Feed works and feel they have little control over the content they’re served. More than half of U.S. adults who use Facebook said they do not understand why certain posts, and not others, are included in their News Feed.

Facebook users, technology experts and politicians have long criticized Facebook for a lack of transparency as to how its algorithms curate news and critical political information.

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