Social Networking Sites Study

Social Networking Sites and the Surveillance Society

studiVZ, Facebook. MySpace: First study of social networking sites in Austria

Deutsche Version (German)

Fuchs, Christian. 2009. Social Networking Sites and the Surveillance Society. A Critical Case Study of the Usage of studiVZ, Facebook, and MySpace by Students in Salzburg in the Context of Electronic Surveillance. Salzburg/Vienna: Research Group UTI. ISBN 978-3-200-01428-2.


Press Release (January 2009)

Press Release TXT

674 students from Salzburg participated in the study that was conducted by the eTheory Research Group (University of Salzburg, ICT&S Center). 88.3% of the respondents use studiVZ, 39.5% Facebook, 15.9% MySpace, 9.0% Xing, 7.4% Lokalisten. Each of 61 other social networking sites (SNS) is used by less than 1%. Study author associate professor Christian Fuchs: “There are indications for a strong economic concentration in the area of social networking sites. On the one hand concerning usage, but as a consequence on the other hand also in relation to profits that are made by advertising”.

59.1% of the respondents see the maintenance of social contacts as the biggest advantage of SNS, 55.7% say that economic and political surveillance is the greatest risk. Fuchs: “Students are very aware of the massive collection of personal data on these platforms, they use them nonetheless because of the expected communicative advantages. This does not mean that they are incautious, but that there is a structural lack of alternative platforms. Non-commercial, non-profit SNS do not have to evaluate data for personalized advertisements, therefore the probability of surveillance and data abuse decreases. But such platforms are currently hardly existent or completely unknown, therefore young people − the main usage group of social networking sites − have to rely on commercial service providers that collect, store, and evaluate personal data in order to accumulate profits by targeted advertising”.

81.8% of the respondents have little knowledge about concrete data surveillance in Europe (e.g. the Data Retention Directive or the Austrian Security Police Act). But 67.4% have a critical standpoint towards surveillance. 88.7% of the studiVZ users have good or very good knowledge about what happens with their data on the platform. The same is true for only 35.9% of Facebook users and 22.6% of MySpace users. Fuchs: “Students are generally critical towards surveillance, but they only have little concrete knowledge about the existing political regulations. Users‘ rather high degree of knowledge about studiVZ and their rather critical information behaviour on this platform, contrast with knowledge and information behaviour on Facebook and MySpace. This can be explained by the change of the terms of use that studiVZ undertook at the beginning of 2008 and that introduced targeted advertising. The introduction was accompanied by a self-organized information campaign that students conducted on the platform and public discussions that presented studiVZ as the “sniffleVZ” (=SniffleDirectory). This campaign can be interpreted as a form of fragmented public. Its success was very limited. Nonetheless it has resulted in the fact that many students have read the new terms of use and have opted out of standard advertising options, which was not the case on other platforms”.

The study recommends that citizens see commercial Internet platforms that store and evaluate personal data generally critically and that by establishing special consumer protection websites it could be documented in the public, which rights in dealing with personal data such platforms obtain by their terms of use and their privacy terms. Christian Fuchs: “There are many examples for how affected citizens try surveilling the surveillors with the help of websites. This can pose a certain degree of protection by making use of public information, but also has limits because the basic problem is that we live in times, in which on the one hand there are strong commercial interests in data collection and data evaluation and on the other hand after 9/11 continuously more political steps have been taken for creating surveillance societies. These are political-economic problems, not technological ones”

The expertise of the study will be part of the Europe-wide research project “Living in Surveillance Societies” of the European Science Foundation, in which Christian Fuchs represents Austria in the management committee.

Media Coverage:
ORF Futurezone, 19.1.2009:” studiVZ bei Studenten am beliebtesten: Studie zur Nutzung von Social Networking Sites in Salzburg” Link
Salzburg TV, 29.1.2009: Ausgesprochen Salzburg: “Gefahr und Potenzial von studiVZ & Co” Link
Der Standard, 7.5.2009: Nutzer von Facebook & Co: Keine Freude mit persoenlicher Werbung Link
Die Presse, 7.5.2009: Nutzer von Facebook & Co: Keine Freude mit persoenlicher Werbung Link
Oberoesterreichische Nachrichten, 7.5.2009: Nutzer von Facebook & Co: Keine Freude mit persoenlicher Werbung Link