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Apodaca: Studies uncover youths' views on privacy

July 12, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

Are young people really less concerned about privacy than the rest of us?

There's been a lot of discussion about that question in this digital age of ours, but the debate has intensified in recent weeks thanks to revelations by a renegade former U.S. intelligence worker that the government has been collecting massive amounts of digital data on pretty much everyone.

The assumption in some quarters seems to be that today's youths, accustomed as they are to sharing the most intimate details about themselves on social media sites, would collectively shrug at the disclosure by the world's most infamous asylum seeker, Edward Snowden. But just as quickly, others posed themselves as contrarians, arguing that just because younger folks are more comfortable with technology doesn't mean they're any less concerned about their privacy.

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Which view is correct depends on who you're listening to.

A few years back a team of researchers from Harvard, UC Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania concluded from their studies that young people have concerns about privacy similar to those of older Americans. One academic compared the personal information revealed by youths in social networking to that shared by adults using online dating sites.

The main difference between the age groups, the researchers said, was that younger people tended to think the rules guarding their privacy were stricter than they really are. They were also more likely to see the benefits of sharing information.

Another study by USC's Annenberg Center for the Digital Future earlier this year had similar findings but was used to justify a somewhat different slant. Researchers there claimed to identify a "Millennial rift" between 18- to-24-year-olds and the 35s and above when it came to views about electronic media privacy.

"Online privacy is dead," declared the center's director. "Millennials understand that, while older users have not adapted."

The survey did find that younger people were very nearly as reluctant to give others access to their personal data and online behavior as their older counterparts. Even so, they were reportedly more enthusiastic about sharing such information and were more likely to give others access as long as there were perceived benefits to doing so.

I decided to conduct my own study into the matter.

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