Commentary

Pew: Most Teens Try To Protect Privacy Online

Industry observers like to speculate that teens and young adults don't care about privacy -- at least not to the same extent as older people.

But a new report by the Pew Research Center adds to the growing body of research casting doubt on that theory. The report, released this week, shows that not only do teens try to limit who can see their posts and photos, but that 70% of them have asked for advice about how to do so.

Around four out of 10 (42%) have asked a friend or peer for advice, while 41% have turned to a parent. Who else do teens turn to? Thirty-seven percent ask siblings or cousins for recommendations, while 13% go to Web sites and 9% ask teachers. Those findings come from a recent survey of 802 people between the ages of 12 and 17.The numbers add up to more than 100% because teens often ask more than just one person for advice.

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Researchers, who also conducted focus groups, found that some teens say they proactively adjust a site's privacy settings. What's more, some are alert to the possibility that a service could blindside them by tinkering with its default settings. “I think they [Facebook] change them a lot. And they sort of reset or something. So you just have to constantly, you know, update them,” one 13-year-old boy told Pew.

Facebook had a reputation for doing so in the past, but last year Facebook promised the Federal Trade Commission to obtain users' express consent before sharing their information more broadly than Facebook's privacy policy allowed when users uploaded the data.

This study isn't the first one to debunk the conventional wisdom that teens don't care about privacy. Several years ago, researcher Danah Boyd reported that some teens go so far as to deactivate their accounts (but not delete them) in order to prevent their profiles from being seen by others. Boyd also reported in 2010 that the virtually all (98%) college students changed Facebook's privacy settings at least once, and that more than half had done so at least four times.

1 comment about "Pew: Most Teens Try To Protect Privacy Online".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, August 19, 2013 at 6:27 a.m.

    Another sad example of how surveys that ask questions about "have you ever verb-ed?" (past tense referring to your whole life) get misreported as saying "x% of people verb" (present tense referring to what you are still doing now) when these are not the same thing at all. The truth is that teens sometimes care about privacy and sometimes don't; asking questions about behavior over a long period is a poor way to investigate this; and implying that the reported data applies to a single point in time is a poor way to summarise the results.

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