Table of Contents

Convenient or Invasive - The Information Age




1. Campus Invasion: Security Breaches and Their Trends in Universities across the U.S.

2. Is Banking Online a Safe Alternative to the Old Fashioned Paper and Pen

3. FICO Scores: Uses and Misuses

4. Privacy Issues Pertaining to Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

5. Politicians and Privacy


6. International Privacy and Travel

7. Biometrics: Does Convenience Outweigh Privacy?

8. Advertising and Technology: How Advertisers Are Trying to get Into Your Head

9. Paypal’s Phishing Dilemma

10. Are Marketers Crossing the Line with Online Tracking?


» 11. Can Your Friends Make or Break You?  The Analysis of How Friends Portray Each Other

12. Social Networking Privacy and Its Affects on Employment Opportunities

13. Privacy and Online Dating

14. How does Cyworld and Personal Networking Communities effect people’s communication and relationships?


15. Email Regulation of Employers and Implications on the Workplace

16. Celebrity CEOs and Privacy Issues

17. A Balancing Act: Privacy, Regulation, and Innovation in Hedge Funds


18. Wireless Location Tracking

19. The Evolution of Global Positioning Systems

20. Consequences of Camera Phones in Today’s Society

21. Risky Business at Wireless Hot Spots

22. Citywide Wireless: Process, Implementation, Execution and Privacy


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Ethica Publishing

Leeds School of Business
UCB 419
Boulder, CO 80309-0419



Can Your Friends Make or Break You?
The Analysis of How Friends Portray Each Other

Joy A. Eagle and Kyle R. Momii


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Picture yourself sitting in your favorite coffee shop when a person you have never seen before asks if it is true that you are a liberal Christian from California, graduating in 2008. This person does not looks familiar, but you must have met him somewhere if he knows all of these things about you. You are even surprised he was able to track you down at your favorite place to study. He asks if you would like to go to dinner at The Cheesecake Factory, your favorite restaurant, and tells you he can pick you up at Bear Creek Apartments, your current residency.  You sit there stunned, asking yourself, “How does he know all of this information about me?”  He proceeds to inform you that you are in the same chemistry class and he searched you on Facebook, but was unable to view your profile.  He was, however, able to view the profiles of your friends to gather these facts about you. 
Although this particular situation is fictitious, it is possible.  Chapters 4 and 12 explored the some of the privacy issues related Facebook and determined that this social network is a powerful search engine that employers have no problem utilizing for business purposes.   For the purposes of this chapter, social networks will be explored further, particularly Facebook, but with a different point of view. The research will be narrowed down to the information that can be obtained through a blocked profile in a social network. The purpose of this research is to determine if it is possible to gather enough information about a person to categorize them without actually looking at their profile, but through gathering their friend’s information. Further, the paper will investigate the average Facebook user’s thoughts about whether their reputation can be harmed based on their friends’ interests and the information that their friends disclose. 


Background Information

Social networking technology began with online games, bulletin boards, mailing lists and dating services (Mitrano). is one leader in online social networking that began in the late 1990’s. It connects millions of members with friends from school, work and the military. In 2002, became another popular social networking tool to search for old friends and meet new people through friends.  Today, there are over two hundred social networking sites (Hawkins). and are two sites that are most frequently featured in the media.  Facebook was originally created for college and university students, but has now opened to other networks such as companies or regions.  Facebook only requires an email address to become a member.  The majority of university and college students are members of this site, so Facebook has been chosen as the focus of this research.
Social networks give people the opportunity to branch out of their small communities and make connections around the world based on shared interests (Mitrano).  All social networks share the following elements: they are usually free to join, the user creates a “profile” page, which includes a picture and personal information, and users link their profile page to the profiles of their “friends” (OS Weekly).  This last criterion is important when exploring the possibility of learning about a person from her friends’ disclosed information. Gathering information on how users are connected to other users in their network is one of the first steps in the research process.
Facebook was created in February 2004 and is one of the most significant social networks relating to higher education because it was originally created for the college/university market (Mitrano).  Over seven million students from 2,600 colleges and universities use the website (Hawkins).  In September 2005, 85% of students attending a college or university had a Facebook profile.  60% of users log in daily, 85% log in at least weekly, and 93% log in at least once a month (Hawkins).  According to the website, “Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you” (Zuckerberg).
Although Facebook is a successful social network that generates millions of dollars, many issues are raised, such as personal safety, monitoring for content and the new generation’s expectations of privacy.  Facebook can include contact information such as email, instant messenger screen names, physical address and phone number.  It also often includes more personal information, such as interests, photos and lists of friends (Hawkins). 


It is important to note that Facebook users may not be aware that their friends’ profiles can harm their reputation. However, the authors hypothesize that by examining only a person’s friends, an accurate profile of that person’s social category may be derived.  The information gathered will help to determine the political views, religion, favorite music and college major of the person being investigated.  Then, the person will be defined in terms of socialization categories, based on their friends.


To test the hypothesis, a multi-method approach is employed.  The three different methods include: the use of surveys, the use of interviews and a study examining numerous Facebook profiles.

The first part of the research consisted of surveying university students to obtain the opinions of students that have a Facebook profile.  This survey was used to determine whether people block their profiles and if people think their friends’ profiles can harm their reputation.  The survey was distributed to University of Colorado-Boulder students, and the results provide an initial understanding of attitudes and beliefs regarding information available through Facebook.  The survey is available in Appendix A.

Sociology Expert
The next step in the research involved interviewing a sociology expert, a professor from the University of Colorado, to get her position on Facebook.  She was able to guide us in the categorization of Facebook users.

Field Study
The main component of the research was the field study.  A template was compiled to gather data for the study to ensure consistent results.  The template consisted of the types of information that can be found on a typical Facebook profile. The control groups are to test if the method proves the theory.  Author 1 chose 10 of Author 2’s Facebook friends, filled out the template, then tried to decide what that person was like and what social category they fall into.  The experimental group consists of filling out the template for persons with no relationship to the authors. 

Putting it all together
All of the methods are dependent on one another.  Once results were obtained for both the study and the surveys, they were combined into a two way matrix.  Below is the matrix that was used:




        Field Study Results






Survey Results









If the results had fallen into Box A, the field study proved that it is possible to categorize a person based on their friends’ information, and the survey indicated that the majority of the sample believes friends’ profiles can affect reputations.  Therefore, students are aware that is it possible to learn about someone based on their friends, while also conscious of the risks involved. Box B means that the study proved that is not possible to categorize a person based on their friends, but the survey indicates that the majority of students believe that friends can affect their reputation. Therefore, students are overcautious of Facebook profiles. Box C is the opposite of Box B, the study results are yes, but the survey results are no. Therefore, students are not aware of a privacy issue that has been proven to exist.  If the results fall into this Box, the hypothesis is proven correct. Finally, Box D means that the study proved it not possible to categorize people based on their friends, and the survey reveals that the friends’ profiles cannot affect reputation and a great amount of information cannot be gathered.  Therefore, students believe that Facebook is only used for legitimate social purposes and a blocked profile is safe.


Surveys were distributed among 87 University of Colorado students.  88.5% indicated they had Facebook profiles.  Of these students, 61% check their Facebook accounts on a daily basis.  49% block their profile.  Of the Facebook members surveyed, only one member believed that his or her Facebook friends are dissimilar.  Finally, only 39% believe that their friends’ profiles can harm their reputation.  Hence, many Facebook users are not aware that their friends can harm their reputation.  This piece of data narrows down the ending results of the two way matrix into Box C and D; surveyed students do not think it is possible to gather information about a person through their friends’ profiles. 

Sociology Expert Findings
Dr. Glenda Walden, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, explained that it is possible to notice patterns through the arrangement of online social networks.  She felt that we would be able to identify individuals based on ethnic backgrounds, religious participation, political affiliation and extra curricular activities.   However, it would be difficult to identify a person based on their social traits, such as an introvert or extrovert, and further, she did not think it was necessary to try to categorize individuals in broad social categories (Walden).
Professor Walden helped narrow the focus to specific categories, such as political views, religious views, activities, music/movie interests and other evidently repetitive specific factors. Through determining the patterns of the subjects’ friends from these categories, an idea of the subjects’ interests and views could be formulated; therefore, learning more information about the subject than was initially disclosed.  

The Field Study


Based on the control group, it was possible to define a majority of the subjects’ interests, political and religious views, and involvement in certain clubs.  At times, it was surprising how much was able to be discovered from friends when the only directly available information from the user, in most cases, was the name, major, year and photo.  However, other cases revealed that it was more difficult to determine certain characteristics about the subject, such as political views because friends had a wide variety of beliefs.  A few cases failed to disclose information for certain characteristics, such as religious views, but it was still possible to make assumptions through the little information revealed.  The majority of the cases revealed it was possible to find a pattern with a few similar traits.
Another tool discovered through research was the way in which Facebook organizes their networks.  For example, a few cases revealed where the individuals went to high school because Facebook organized those friends into a high school network.  Another case revealed that there were over 100 friends that go to school in a particular area.  Through this, we were able to target the home town of the individual.
Facebook also has a “Groups” page in which anyone can join and view.  The groups helped us determine the types of extra curricular activities individuals are involved in.  For example, in one case, the majority of an individual’s friends were part of a business fraternity.  To ensure that she was in the fraternity, a search was done for that group and in the group members section, her name appeared. 
Another interesting factor was that finding out information on females seemed to be a lot easier than collecting information on males.  When placing individuals into specific categories, there was less certainty with male candidates then with female.   
Overall, the study revealed that much information can be gathered on a subject with a blocked Facebook profile by looking through their friends with unblocked profiles.  By drawing conclusions from their friends, enough information was gathered to determine a general perspective of the person.  Therefore, in the two-way matrix, the results were closer to Box C rather than to Box D, signifying that students are not aware that their information can be exposed to others even with a blocked profile. 

Implications of Research


Upon gathering data, there were a few noticed implications to the research.  First of all, the survey only gathered data from a small sample of college-aged students from the University of Colorado. 
Next, while filling out the templates, it was only possible to view friends of people that also attend the University of Colorado.  There is no access to students in networks in which the viewer does not belong to.  Therefore, only friends that did not block their profile from the University of Colorado could be viewed.  However, since our subjects are at school for the majority of the year, they tend to be around the people from their college network more often than friends from other networks, allowing for better conclusions to be drawn from those friends in their college network.
Only state agencies are able to view blocked profiles, and this limited the research. In addition to a blocked profile, there is another privacy setting that takes away the ability to view friends. Some people are aware of this, but the surveys showed that most people are not. Therefore, while conducting the study, it was necessary to ensure the subjects’ friends could be viewed.

Further Analysis


The survey indicates that the majority of the participants are upperclassmen, junior level or above.  At this point in college, students are usually looking for internships and even entry-level jobs for after graduation.  Therefore, it is ironic that the majority of Facebook users surveyed do not block their profiles and do not believe their friend’s profiles can affect them.
Another feature that was noticed after searching through the profiles is that some people post false information in their profiles, such as relationship status, that are obviously untrue.  This skewed the actual data collection, but it also exposed a new problem for the individual’s profile. If someone tries to search for information, but does not necessarily know that such information is false, it can still be taken seriously and can hurt one’s reputation in the future.
It is also necessary to point out that even by having a Facebook profile, whether it is blocked to users out of the network or not, the information is usually available.  Using the example from another chapter of employers or any person of a high power using information from Facebook, these individuals can look up information that is linked to potential employees and use it against them in any way they please.  Because people are linked through networks of friends, employers can make potentially untrue assumptions about individuals.  Anything disclosed online, can come back to haunt people in the future. 
Parts of the hypothesis have been proven correct, but there was one major difference.  The biggest misconception uncovered during data gathering, particularly after speaking with Professor Walden, was that people were not able to be placed into a specific social category.  It was not possible to objectively narrow down the types of categories to place people in. Therefore, it was impossible to decide what specific category a person can be placed in based on the profiles of their friends.  However, the patterns of specific traits were used to accurately configure the subject’s religious views, social groups and hobbies. It was also discovered that more information could be found through the labeling of specific networks that provides.  For example, when looking at the subjects friends, they were organized by the different networks, essentially categorizing how people knew each other.  Through this process, it was easy to determine how old the subject was and what high school and hometown they could have possibly grown up in.  Furthermore, this freshly discovered tool could be used to find out what other social groups the subject was a part of on campus.  The accuracy of the findings proved that a substantial amount of information could be discovered about a person even though their profile was blocked.



Many new concepts of social networking were uncovered during the extensive field study.  The research recognized that many students are not aware of a problem that has been proven to exist. If a person has a Facebook account and does not strictly filter the information given out, his or her privacy is compromised.  This study is not meant to persuade students out of using a social network, such as Facebook, but is intended only to share the valuable information that was acquired through our research.  We were able to decipher characteristics and views of students who had restricted their information to share amongst friends only.  If someone was motivated enough, using our method, a lot of information can be uncovered.  For those students, faculty and alumni who do use Facebook, MySpace or any other social network, understand that there should always be a privacy option and take the time to see how to filter private information.  Cyber networking is a new concept that many are still trying to understand.  This study is intended to provide awareness to help someone safely navigate the new world of social networking, but also enjoy what it has to offer.

Works Cited


Hawkins, Brian L. and Oblinger, Diana G. “The Myth about Putting Information Online: No One Cares What You Say Online.” EDUCAUSE Review. Vol. 41, no. 5. September/October 2006. Page 14-15.

Mitrano, Tracy. “A Wider World: Youth, Privacy, and Social Networking Technologies.” EDUCAUSE Review. November/December 2006: 7 pages.  13 March 2007.

“Positive Behavior Support Glossary.” Online Academy.  3 February 2007.

Zuckerberg, Mark.  Facebook. 2007. Facebook. 3 February 2007.

Appendix A


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