A common argument I hear is that young people just don’t care about privacy. If they cared about privacy, why would they share so much personal data on Facebook? Why would they text so much? Why would they be so cavalier about their privacy? Privacy will be dead in a generation, the argument goes.
This argument is wrong for several reasons. Studies show that young people do care about privacy. A few years ago, a study by Chris Hoofnagle and others revealed that young people’s attitudes about privacy didn’t differ much from older people’s attitudes. A more recent study sponsored by Microsoft found that “[p]rivacy and security rank as college students’ #1 concern about online activity.”
But what accounts for the behavior of sharing so much personal data online? First, young people—especially teenagers—might not be thinking through the consequences of their actions. It doesn’t mean they will never care about privacy; they might care about privacy at a point in the future.
Second, new technologies are a major fact of their lives. We live in a world now where it is becoming increasingly hard to forgo using these technologies, especially when they are very useful and beneficial.
Third, the technologies can make it easier for people to share information without the normal factors that can make people fully comprehend the consequences. If people were put in a packed auditorium, would they say the same things they say online? Most likely not. That’s because when people post online, they don’t see hundreds or thousands of faces staring at them. Seeing all those people visually drives home the consequences more than just seeing a computer screen. People also say things online that they’d never say to another person face-to-face.
Fourth, young people have a very nuanced understanding of privacy. They don’t see privacy as simply keeping secrets. They understand privacy as controlling information flow. It is rare these days to be able to hide information from absolutely everyone. There are too many technologies that capture images and information. Instead, people control who sees their information. They set their social media profiles to allow certain people to have access but others not to have access. They allow some companies to have their data but do not want others to access it or want it used in some ways but not others. Privacy isn’t all-or-nothing – it’s about modulating boundaries and controlling data.
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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of training on privacy and security topics. This post was originally posted on his blog at LinkedIn, where Solove is an “LinkedIn Influencer.” His blog has more than 600,000 followers.
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