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Britons grow cautious about social networking data

Twice as many UK adults have a social networking profile now compared to two years ago and those users are nearly twice as likely to keep their profiles private, according to research by media and telecoms regulator Ofcom.18 May 2010

A study by Ofcom found that 44% of British adults had a social networking profile in 2009, compared to 22% in 2007. The study into media literacy found that 80% of those users now set their profile so that it is only visible to their friends and family. In 2007 that figure was just 48%.

"Media literacy enables people to have the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to make full use of the opportunities presented both by traditional and by new communications services," Ofcom's report said. "Media literacy also helps people to manage content and communications, and protect themselves and their families from the potential risks associated with using these services."

Changing policies at market leader Facebook have caused regulators and users' groups to express concern about the privacy implications of using social networking sites. Ofcom's data showing that social networking users are taking more control of their profiles suggests both that these concerns are affecting their behaviour and that they have the media literacy to act on their doubts.

Though social networking behaviour suggests that users are becoming more privacy conscious, the research revealed that there was only a small decline in internet users' willingness to hand over personal information online.

It found that 44% of users would be happy to provide their email address when online, compared to 49% in 2007.

The research also showed that the internet is increasingly being used a source of fun rather than productivity. UK adults are using it less for study and work than two years ago and more as a source of entertainment and media.

"As in previous years, communication is the most commonly-mentioned activity carried out on a regular basis (at least once a week) by internet users (78%)," said the study. "Compared to 2007, however, fewer internet users are finding information online for their work / studies (36% vs. 48%). There has been a considerable increase in regular use of the internet for social networking (35% vs. 19%) and for entertainment (34% vs. 22%)."

A third of internet users watch television programmes or films online, almost all of them through broadcasters' official sites and services, such as the BBC's iPlayer.

The research did reveal areas of digital technology in which users still had difficulties. The activities which internet users found most difficult and in which they had least confidence were installing content filtering systems and installing security technology. Older people, women and people in the D and E socio-economic groups found these hardest.