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Facebook users reveal risky details

Consumer Reports survey finds many Facebook users reveal personal details and don't use the site's privacy controls to protect themselves.

More than half of Facebook and MySpace users surveyed have posted risky personal details about themselves online, according to the results of a new survey from Consumer Reports.

The magazine's State of the Net 2010 report, published in its June 2010 issue and discussed in its Electronics blog on Tuesday, also discovered that 23 percent of Facebook users don't even know about the site's privacy controls or just don't bother to use them.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center, which conducted the survey, found that about 1,300 of the 2,000 U.S. households included in the study now use social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. That's about twice as many as a year ago. But many of those people seem to be in the dark about the potential risks of using a social network. Of those surveyed, 40 percent had posted their full birth date, potentially exposing them to identify theft, said Consumer Reports.

The survey, which seemed to focus primarily on Facebook, also discovered that 7 percent of people had posted their street address on their profile, while 3 percent had revealed times when they'd be away from home. Among Facebook users with children, 26 percent had posted photos of their kids on the site and 13 percent had included the names of their kids in the captions, both of which Consumer Reports believes could expose the children to potential online predators.

People who use Facebook games and apps also seem unaware of any potential risks. Of the adult Facebook users who played games and took quizzes on the site, 38 percent were either sure the apps were safe or hadn't given it any thought. But over the past year, 9 percent of the social network users surveyed by Consumer Reports were hit by some type of online abuse, such as malware, scams, identify theft, or harassment.

"Many people use social networking sites to share personal information and photos with their friends quickly and easily," Jeff Fox, Consumer Reports technology editor, said in a statement. "However there are serious risks involved which can be lessened by using privacy controls offered by the sites."

To help people protect themselves, Consumer Reports issued a list of things not to do on Facebook, including using a weak password, ignoring the privacy controls, posting your full birth date, putting your child's name in a photo caption, posting an update that you'll be away from home, letting your kids use Facebook without supervision, and allowing search engines to find your profile.

Of course, Facebook does offer a variety of different privacy settings. But the site often comes under criticism for making those privacy controls too confusing or too obscure. Facebook also has a history of raising hackles when it unveils new features or changes that invariably open up new privacy issues.