Facebook may be the third wheel in your relationship

Want a better romantic relationship? Stop 'oversharing' on social networks

Looking to have a romantic Valentine's Day with your sweetheart? Maybe you should use Facebook a little less.

Facebook just may be the third wheel in your relationship, according to a study from Abine Inc., an online privacy company based in Boston.

"A lot of people don't consider the consequences of posting the details of their love lives online until it's too late," said Sarah Downey, a privacy analyst for Abine. "Only one in 10 people report being less concerned about the privacy of their love lives today than one year ago."

The problem, according to the study, is that Facebook has a front-row seat to people's romantic relationships. Some people, the study found, give the social network prominence over sharing with family, friends and colleagues.

In a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, Abine found that more than 50% said they share details of their love lives on Facebook, and 37% do it on other social media sites, blogs and online dating sites. In addition, 60% of those polled said they accept friend requests from people they don't know well. That means virtual strangers or acquaintances are reading intimate details of their romantic lives. The survey was conducted between Jan. 30 and Feb. 4.

The study also showed that 17.8% have either posted provocative pictures of themselves or details of romantic encounters online, even though more than 60% of social networking users are not confident in the privacy of their photos and data on social networks.

In addition, users are giving out too many security details, as well as intimate details. More than one-third of those surveyed said they have given their social network account username and password to the person they're dating, according to the survey.

This could be a problem since the survey also showed that people aren't respecting their partner's online privacy. Forty percent of those surveyed said they have looked at their partner's emails or other private messages, and 30% have snooped through their partner's browsing history.

So how do you keep your relationship, photos and data private?

First off, always keep your usernames and passwords to yourself, Abine said. You also should go into your privacy settings and restrict who can see your status updates, photos and videos on the social network. And once your relationship ends, it's a good idea to end your online relationship as well.

Abine's privacy analysts also suggest that users try to keep a lid on "oversharing," or giving too many details about your relationship. If you wouldn't be comfortable with your grandmother, employer or future significant others seeing this information, don't post it.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter, at @sgaudin, and on Google+, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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