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Privacy literacy questions dog Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg testifying in front of a big-screen TV that also shows him testifying
Zuckerberg testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Average users of Facebook's platform have a hard time understanding how Facebook uses its data, according to a new Omnibus study commissioned by Digital Content Next.

Why it matters: Privacy literacy proved to be a major topic of discussion during Senate and House Facebook hearings this week, with lawmakers telling CEO Mark Zuckerberg he needs to put questions about access to data in "pedestrian language."

  • Less than half (47%) of respondents say they expect Facebook to track a person’s browsing across the web in order to make ads more targeted, according to the study.
  • A little more than half (56%) of respondents expect Facebook to collect data about a person’s activities on Facebook.
  • Roughly a third (39%) of respondents expect Facebook to track a person's usage of apps that Facebook does not own in order to make ads more targeted.

Members of Congress zeroed in on this idea, grilling Zuckerberg about how hard it is to find, understand and adjust privacy settings on the platform.

  • "Right now I am not convinced that Facebook's users have the information that they need to make meaningful choices," said Sen. John Thune (R-SD).
  • Events like the Cambridge Analytica scandal have "exposed that consumers may not fully understand or appreciate the extent to which their data is collected, protected, transferred, used and misused," said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
  • "You have to inform people in pedestrian language what you have to do with your data," said Rep. Anne Eshoo (D-CA).

Facebook has recently taken steps to make their privacy settings more understandable.

  • It updated its terms of service two weeks ago — the first significant update since 2015 — to make its commitment to user privacy more explicit.
  • It also announced an overhaul of its data policy to better define what data it collects and how it is used, as well as making the privacy tools easier to find.

Privacy literacy is not just a Facebook problem. According to the latest privacy study by Pew Research Center, some 86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints, but "many say they would like to do more or are unaware of tools they could use."

Go deeper: So how does one become more privacy literate? Mozilla's Internet Health Report provides some good starting points in "pedestrian language."