Study: Digital Generation Does Care About Privacy

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A new study from researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania is shedding some light on the so-called digital generation’s attitudes towards online privacy: they seem to care about it almost as much as anyone else. Among the findings: 82 percent of young adults hav refused to give information to a business because they thought it was invasive or unnecessary—and that compares to 85 percent of respondents of all ages. However, the study also highlighted shortcomings in young adults’ knowledge of privacy issues and rights, both online and offline.

The study—How Different are Young Adults From Older Adults When It Comes to Information Privacy Attitudes and Polices?—is one of the first attempts to quantify young American adults’ attitudes towards online privacy, and surveyed 1,000 Americans aged 18 years or older by phone in July 2009. Attitudes towards online privacy are of particular interest to online businesses, particularly in an era where the founder of Facebook declares an expectation of privacy is no longer a “social norm.”

The study found that some 86 percent of all respondents believe that anyone who posts a photo or video of them on the Internet should get permissions first, even if it was taken in a public place. Among young people aged 18 to 24, that number barely changed: 84 percent think the poster should get permission first, although the number jumped to 90 percent amongst respondents after 45 to 54. Further more, 40 percent of young adults thought company executives should face jail time if their company uses someone’s information illegally…and that number matches responses from 35 to 44 year-olds.

However, the study also found gaps in young people’s knowledge of online privacy rights and issues: the study asked five questions about online privacy, and 42 percent of young adults answered all five of them incorrectly, and 88 percent only got one two of them right. The study also found young Americans were least likely to answer questions about offline privacy correctly.

The study notes that young people’s responses to questions about privacy-related issues may not match their behavior: although young Americans may say they have a strong desire for online privacy, interpersonal and peer pressure may still lead them to disclose personal data to online enterprises to be included in online social circles…even if, in other moments, they may prefer a more conservative stance.