Young people value privacy too

Chris at denialism.blog has found a study by researchers at UC-Berkeley into attitudes among young people to privacy. That’s the sort of young people, I guess, who Mark Zuckerberg might hope are going to make his Facebook business as big as Google some time in the not-so-distant future.

Inherent in Zuckerberg’s plan is the conflict between our desire to protect our privacy and his desire to sell our personal information to advertisers. The new upgrade of Facebook is his latest effort to prise more of our precious personal info out of us, while convincing us he’s doing it to provide the ‘richer experience’ we crave from the internet.

But the Berkeley study – “How Different are Young Adults from Older Adults When it Comes to Information Privacy Attitudes and Policies?” – has some interesting conclusions, and they may disappoint the 20-somethings running Facebook. It found that Zuckerberg’s peers are not as open and willing to share as he might have hoped. In fact, they value their privacy just as much as older adults, it’s just that many of them haven’t thought about privacy issues and don’t yet understand the consequences of losing their privacy.

This is from the abstract:

In this telephonic (wireline and wireless) survey of internet using Americans (N=1000), we found that large percentages of young adults (those 18-24 years) are in harmony with older Americans regarding concerns about online privacy, norms, and policy suggestions. In several cases, there are no statistically significant differences between young adults and older age categories on these topics. Where there were differences, over half of the young adult-respondents did answer in the direction of older adults. There clearly is social significance in that large numbers of young adults agree with older Americans on issues of information privacy.

A gap in privacy knowledge provides one explanation for the apparent license with which the young behave online. 42 percent of young Americans answered all of our five online privacy questions incorrectly. 88 percent answered only two or fewer correctly. The problem is even more pronounced when presented with offline privacy issues – post hoc analysis showed that young Americans were more likely to answer no questions correctly than any other age group.

We conclude then that 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.

That last sentence puts the social networking puzzle in nice and succinct terms. The latest Facebook update is all about optimising to increase our revelation of personal data. Is that what Zuckerberg means when he talks about “personalising” the web?

(photo courtesy of deneyterrio via flickr)

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