What Do Your Kids Know About Online Privacy?



It seems to be the common conception that young Americans don’t value their privacy, and information about themselves, in the same way or as much as older Americans do. However, as I’ve noted before on this very blog, the studies simply don’t bear out this stereotype. A new study, entitled “How Different are Young Adults from Older Adults When it Comes to Information Privacy Attitudes and Policies?,” seems to indicate that Americans of all ages care about privacy but have differing understandings of how to protect our personal information, and often simply lack tools and knowledge to make technologically complex privacy decisions.

[This is a guest blog post by Heather West, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy & Technology.]

Internet users, whether in their 20s or older, agree that privacy is a concern for them online. The study found that there are few statistical differences in the concerns about privacy between young adults and older adults. So why is it that young adults seem to use social tools online wantonly, broadcasting information about themselves? In light of the 2007 Pew study on how often young adults use privacy controls, we may be able to theorize that young adults spend more time broadcasting information but also spend more time curating that information and setting controls for how it might be used or viewed.

Where the study found generational differences among respondents was in respect to knowledge about privacy. Young adults did not have the same kinds of knowledge about privacy and protecting privacy online and offline as their older counterparts — showing that while the intention may be to control information flows, younger adults may not have the tools and understanding necessary to ensure that their privacy expectations are carried through.

Perhaps young adults want to have their cake and eat it too — taking best advantage of the online tools for social interactions while trying to preserve privacy, but without the concrete knowledge that would allow them to do so. With all the confusing privacy policies and interactions online, it may be that young adults are trying to protect their privacy but have not been given the tools to do so. There’s no reason that, in this Internet age, we shouldn’t be able to provide the innovative tools, the privacy controls, and the user education that is necessary to create a fully-featured and privacy-protective online experience.

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