Berkeley says young people DO care about privacy
I’ve said before that young people don’t care (as much) about privacy. And I’m in notable company in making the claim. Disney’s CEO Richard Iger has said that “kids don’t care” about privacy issues and that complaints come from older people, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has said that social norms around privacy have changed in the last few years.
But now a group of Berkeley researchers, led by Berkeley Law School’s Chris Jay Hoofnagle, has released a report to prove us all wrong. The researchers came up with a series of questions about privacy, and commissioned a survey of 1,000 Americans 18 years of age and over. Despite their picture posting, tweetaholic, Facebook-status updating ways, young people’s attitudes were aligned with old people’s attitudes when it came to the privacy issues addressed.
One response, of course, is that, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Another response is that technology’s enabling us to pour our lives out for the world to see has caused a fundamental shift in the conception of what privacy is. The kind of privacy that the Berkeley team investigated is the kind that young people have in common with their elders: information-use privacy.
The privacy explored by the Berkeley-ites tended to be of the “what are companies doing with your information” variety. Here are some of the questions posed (and the options for answering):
- Have you ever refused to give information to a business or a company because you thought it was not really necessary or was too personal? (Yes, No, etc.)
- Generally speaking, anyone who uploads a photo or video of me to the internet where I am clearly recognizable should first get my permission. (Agree, Disagree, etc.)
The percentage of people agreeing with this was in the 80s in every age group, except among the 45-54 age group, in which 90% of people agreed. But if you’re on Facebook, people are uploading photos of you all the time without first getting permission, which makes me hearken back to “actions speaking louder than words.”
- Do you think there should be a law that gives people the right to know everything that a website knows about them, or do you feel such a law is not necessary? (Yes, No, etc.)
- Do you think there should be a law that requires websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about an individual, or do you feel such a law is not necessary? (Yes, No, etc.)
- Do you read the privacy policies of websites? (Often, Sometimes, etc.)
Very few people do.
- When using the internet, do you erase your cookies? (Often, Sometimes, etc.)
- Have you ever changed your mind about buying something online because of a privacy or security concern? (Yes, No, etc.)
- In general, how often do you check your credit report? (Once a month, every few months, yearly, etc.)
- Compared to five years ago, would you say you are more concerned about privacy issues on the internet, less concerned, or that you have the same level of concern? (More, Less, etc.)
About half of the people surveyed were more concerned.
Other questions dealt with how to punish companies for using personal information illegally. The researchers also tested Americans’ understanding of privacy law, i.e., what companies can do with your name, address, and purchase history. (They don’t really understand it.)
Interestingly, it’s the 35-44 age group that tended to be most conservative about privacy in their answers. The young people (18-24 years old) tended to be less conservative, but yes, in general, the attitudes of “the young” were similar to that of other age groups.
This is the conclusion the researchers reached in their report:
In policy circles, it has become almost a cliché to claim that young people do not care about privacy. Certainly there are many troubling anecdotes surrounding young individuals’ use of the internet, and of social networking sites in particular. Nevertheless, we found that in large proportions young adults do care about privacy. The data show that they and older adults are more alike on many privacy topics than they are different. We suggest, then, that young-adult Americans have an aspiration for increased privacy even while they participate in an online reality that is optimized to increase their revelation of personal data.
This survey measured people’s sense of privacy in relation to corporate entities. And when it comes to that notion of privacy, there is common ground across generations. We all want a sense of control over how our personal information is being used by private actors.
But in my mind, that’s a different notion of privacy than the one that’s been bandied about previously. I think where the “young” and “old” differ in their views on privacy is in their willingness to expose themselves online without worrying about the repercussions. Michael Arrington recently touched on this at Techcrunch:
It’s time we all just give up on the small fights and become more accepting of the indiscretions of our fellow humans. Because the skeletons are coming out of the closet and onto the front porch.
We’ll look back on the good old days when your reputation was really only on the line with eBay via confirmed, actual transactions and LinkedIn, where you can simply reject anyone who leaves bad feedback on your professional life.
Today we have quick fire and semi or completely anonymous attacks on people, brands, businesses and just about everything else. And it is becoming increasingly findable on the search engines.
What many of the survey questions really point to is a desire for transparency. People, across age groups, want to know what companies know about them and how that information is being used.
And if you turn it around, the survey results are actually a knock on companies… for being overly private.
Study: Young adults do care about online privacy [Associated Press]