It has long been a widely held belief that older people take their online privacy and security much more serious than young people. But several recent academic studies have suggested that in fact, the opposite is true.
The studies, all of which varied somewhat in the cohort they assessed and the questions they were asked, nevertheless did reach a common conclusion which showed that young adults do value their online privacy, and do take steps to protect it online.
Practising Privacy Techniques
The National Cyber Security Alliance has published a report entitled “Keeping Up with Generation App. This assessed young people aged between 13 and 17 years old and found that 60% of those asked had created online social media and application accounts that no-one else knew about.
It is acknowledged that at that age, they are primarily seeking privacy from the scrutiny of their parents rather than potential hackers or Government agents, but it is still nevertheless evidence of them taking steps to ensure online privacy.
Separately, the Pew Research Trust has published “The State of Privacy in Post-Snowden America.” This looked at young people aged between 18 and 29. They asked their cohort about a selection of techniques which can help to protect online privacy and found some surprising results.
They found that 74% of those asked had cleared their browser history and deleted their cookies; 49% had set up their browser to reject cookies, and 42% had chosen not to use certain online sites and services which demanded their real name.
They did also conclude that this age-group are more likely to have posted personal information online, but that is to be expected since they are the only generation which has really had that opportunity so far.
Meanwhile, an article entitled “What Can I Really Do?’ Explaining the Privacy Paradox with Online Apathy” by researchers Eszter Hargittai and Alice Marwick used a 19-35-year-old cohort to explore understanding of online privacy issues.
They discovered that those questioned had undertaken a wide range of proactive privacy protection actions; from adapting the privacy settings on social media sites and switching between multiple accounts, to using pseudonyms online and employing privacy apps such as Password Managers.
The trends uncovered in these three articles have been highlighted by Irina Raicu from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University. She further notes in her article that independent research she has carried out shows that 92% of young people (18-24 years old this time) have consciously limited what they say online.
What she concludes is that the issue of online privacy has now begun to permeate the mindset of young people, and this is directly affecting the way they behave online.
In an age when Government surveillance is becoming more and more intrusive, this is without question to be welcomed. It also shows that those who denigrate privacy campaigners for wasting their time and compare them to King Canute trying to hold back the tide are missing the point.
Online privacy is becoming a factor which shapes the way people behave online and increasingly the services they use online as well. It is not just that we are seeing increases in privacy tools such as VPNs and Password Managers: we are also seeing a decline in the number of users of services shown not to be secure and private too.
Such findings should give heart to campaigners, but also act as a signpost to developers, governments and those at the top of big online businesses too. People, especially young people, care about privacy. And this is a trend which is going to continue for many years to come.