How Much Do Teens Actually Care About Privacy On The Web?

by , May 19, 2011, 8:15 AM
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Many teenagers use social media sites avidly; they've become the main form of communication for the majority of today's adolescents. Teens can now connect with one another and information more than ever before.

Despite this positive step in technology, however, there is a downside to the ease of connectivity. The controversial aspects surrounding this trend focus on the personal information teens make available on these networks. Are they sharing information that will harm their future college or job prospects? Or worse, are they sharing information that puts them at risk or danger?

The main question is, do teens really understand, or more so, care, about their privacy on the web? A series of surveys and focus groups conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in early 2010 examined the choices that teens make to share or not to share information online, what they share, the context in which they share it and their own assessment of their vulnerability.

The survey's findings were pretty significant: 32% of online teenagers (and 43% of social-networking teens) have been contacted online by complete strangers and 17% of online teens (31% of social networking teens) have "friends" on their social network profile who they have never personally met!

Those particular stats are a little overwhelming, but check out what else they found:

  • 55% of online teens have profiles online

79% have included photos of themselves
61% have included the name of their city or town
40% have included their instant message screen name

  • Among the teens who have profiles, 66% of them say that their profile is not visible to all internet users. They limit access to their profiles in some way
  • Most teens are using the networks to stay in touch with people they already know, either friends that they see a lot (91% of social networking teens have done this) or friends that they rarely see in person (82%)
  • 49% of social network users say they use the networks to make new friends
  • 32% of online teens have been contacted by strangers online -- this could be any kind of online contact, not necessarily contact through social network sites
  • 21% of teens who have been contacted by strangers have engaged an online stranger to find out more information about that person (that translates to 7% of all online teens)
  • 23% of teens who have been contacted by a stranger online say they felt scared or uncomfortable because of the online encounter (that translates to 7% of all online teens)

Though these numbers prove that teens are willing to put personal information on the web, they still appear to be somewhat cautious - they stray away from information such as home address and phone number, and stick to the basics, like first name and hometown. They limit where they can and for the most part, stick to interactions with people they know.

Besides, can we blame teens for partaking in social sites? Being on a social network is without a doubt the "in thing" to do. An astounding 73% of teens are on the sites, sharing their name and other high level details about themselves. Social networking is encouraged in the news, by celebrities, and by major companies and brands. So, if it's okay for everyone else to use these sites, why can't teens? Also, teens are so comfortable using social and online platforms. They've grown up with these technologies and don't know any different.

There's a widespread myth that teenagers don't care about privacy. The logic behind that belief is simple: Why else would they share so much on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube? Yet, participation in such platforms does not imply that today's teens have rejected privacy as a value.

All teens have a sense of privacy, although their definitions of privacy vary widely, hence the varying amounts of information they're willing to share. But, just because they participate does not mean they're intending to put themselves at risk, or completely giving up their sense of privacy. More so, they're following the social norm, putting up some but not all personal information, and pushing technologies and social platforms forward.

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