Privacy — the online generation wants it

By MARTHA IRVINE Modified: June 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm •  Published: June 14, 2013
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This time, researchers also asked about security and found that 60 percent of youth said they set their social networking profiles to private and were confident about keeping control of those settings. A similar proportion of young respondents said they'd also deleted some of their previous posts, blocked people from their social networking accounts and cloaked their messages with inside jokes or obscure references that only their friends would understand.

Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research, and her colleagues call the latter habit “social steganography,” a term for the hidden messages that ancient Greeks used.

But it's not federal investigators young people have in mind when they write in code, she says.

“While adults are often anxious about shared data that might be used by government agencies, advertisers, or evil older men, teens are much more attentive to those who hold immediate power over them — parents, teachers, college admissions officers, army recruiters, etc.,” Boyd wrote in a blog about the Pew Internet & American Life findings.

“Most teens aren't worried about strangers,” she added, “They're worried about getting in trouble (with those they know).”

They're also getting more serious about editing their online lives — and adding more privacy measures — as they enter the college and work worlds, says Mary Madden, a senior researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

“They've had to learn to function in this world of constant monitoring,” says Madden, who co-wrote her group's report on young people and privacy.

That includes parents who track their children's mobile devices, computers and accounts. “So they crave the freedom to have a playful space where they can do that,” Madden says.

It explains, in part, why teens are moving to more creative and visually driven sites, such as Instagram and Snapchat.

Results from the most recent Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll, released Thursday but collected before the NSA story broke, found that young people were still more likely to accept the privacy trade-offs of online life.

Fifty-seven percent of young adults, ages 18 to 29, said they had a “great deal” of control over the personal information online. Even if there are risks, 54 percent also said the positives of online life made potential privacy trade-offs worth it.

Older age groups were consistently less likely to feel control over their online information and were less confident about the benefits of the trade-offs.