Lots of stories in the news recently about technology and privacy: many of them political. All three major phone carriers and many Internet companies are included.
Yet a new study by Pew Research and Harvard confirms a significant generational trend:
Teenagers are not nearly as worried about online privacy as their parents.
In the last six years, teens are “significantly more likely” to have shared personal information like relationship status and birthdate in public online profiles. Nearly all teens use their real name and photos online, and older teens (and especially boys) are more likely to share their cell phone number.
And while 89% of teens say it’s not difficult on Facebook to manage privacy controls, few actually use specific privacy settings. When asked if they are concerned that third-party businesses or advertisers might access their data without their knowledge, only 9% were “very concerned.”
Who is concerned? Parents!
“How concerned are you about how much information advertisers can learn about your child’s online behavior?”
A full 81% of parents report being “very” or “somewhat” concerned, with 46% reporting they are “very concerned.”
Parents are a lot more worried about privacy online than their kids are. And they talk to their kids about it. One 18-year old young woman told researchers:
“I think it is common knowledge that our parents tell us not to post anything because then someone else can look at it. There are creepers that might want to do something with you. And so they [parents] tell us that. But it is like we already know that, because we want to be safe ourselves.”
Notice she doesn’t shrug off the idea of being safe. But the overall teen conception of how privacy works seems generationally different.
The Key Difference
This seems to be the key insight:
Parents are worried about their teen’s information getting to someone they don’t know.
Teens are most worried about privacy with people they know.
Teens weren’t oblivious to the idea that others might see their data. In fact, many of them deleted friend connections or re-arranged photos exactly because they were imagining their profile through other’s eyes. So while corporations using their personal data didn’t seem like a big deal, most of them were pretty concerned about how they looked online to their friends and took great pains to maintain their image.
Female (age 15): “…it’s so competitive to get the most likes [on a Facebook picture]. It’s like your social position.” (p36)
This online reputation management has currency to teens precisely because it impacts their real social network—friends and parents they interact with daily.
It makes me wonder…
- Will the policy conversations we’ll be having in 20 years about privacy be pretty different?
- Is this a true generational difference or simply the immaturity of youth that will fade with age?