What's not entirely clear is whether users truly grasp know how much information third parties can learn -- or infer -- about them by scrutinizing their connections on Facebook or other social networks. Recent studies have found that info can include a user's gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, political leanings, and so forth.
Even if a user hides his or her Friends list, he or she is still at the mercy of his or her friends to follow suit. Through intelligent crawling, a third party can determine who is likely friends with whom. "As more users choose to hide their friend lists in their public profile pages, it becomes increasingly more difficult (for good or for bad!) for third parties to crawl Facebook, build a social graph, and infer hidden information about users," the study said.
The takeaway is that the river of free, valuable user data spewing forth from sites and services such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Foursquare may slowly dry up as users become increasingly guarded about their privacy and that of their peers. That certainly won't stop organizations and individuals -- both well-intentioned and otherwise -- from seeking ways to learn as much as they can about would-be customers or victims.
This story, "More Facebook users are hiding their friends to protect themselves," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.