Users abandoning Facebook

Privacy concerns are leading to "virtual identity suicide" with large numbers of Facebook users deleting their accounts, according to new scientific research.

A study investigating the phenomenon identified privacy as the biggest reason people are turning against the social network giant.

Data protection issues, social pressure to add friends, fears of internet addiction, shallow conversations, and loss of interest in the site were among the reasons for leaving.

But the main aggravating feature according to almost half of University of Vienna psychologist Stefan Stieger's survey respondents was over privacy concerns.

"Given high-profile stories such as WikiLeaks and the recent NSA surveillance reports, individual citizens are becoming increasingly more wary of cyber-related privacy concerns," said Brenda K Wiederhold, editor-in-chief of Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking at the Interactive Media Institute which published the paper.

"With photo tags, profiling, and internet dependency issues, research such as Professor Stieger's is very timely."

The Austrian study authors compared more than 300 people who stopped using social media with the same number of people who remained active users.

They found that those who stopped using social media were more concerned about privacy, had higher addiction scores, and tended to be more conscientious.

"It could be possible that personality traits influence the likelihood of quitting one's Facebook account indirectly via privacy concerns and internet addiction," the study authors wrote.

"In this case, the concern about one's privacy and internet addiction propensity would not be directly in charge for quitting one's Facebook account, but would function as mediators of the underlying personality traits."

The quitters were older, on average, and more likely to be male than those who continued to use Facebook, the study found.

Earlier this year, research by SocialBakers suggested millions of users were turning off Facebook every month.

Last month New Zealand Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said she was closely monitoring Facebook developments after the world's most popular social network said it was considering running users' profile photos through its controversial facial recognition technology.

- Kurt Bayer of APNZ

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