Amty Tech Blog

Privacy? That’s old school

Posted on: November 9, 2007

Reared on reality TV, paparazzi, cell phone cameras and the insatiable maw of the World Wide Web, it’s no wonder teens and adults in their 20s think a little differently when it comes to privacy.

“I am constantly broadcasting who I am,” says Indigo Rael, 22, of Lake Dallas, Texas. “The Internet is just a way for me to reach more people with who I am. It’s the age of information; I’m used to giving and receiving tons.”

To the Internet generation, reaching out and touching a few hundred of their closest friends – especially through social-networking sites MySpace and Facebook – is as natural as brushing their teeth.

“They’re dealing with privacy differently than any of us over 35 ever have,” says Steve Jones, communications professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

In the old days of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations when teens wanted to talk to each other, they’d pick up the phone. Sometimes, they’d have to resort to actual face-to-face conversations.

Today’s teens and adults in their 20s are a lot more likely to reach for a computer keyboard to convey something as fleeting as a mood or as traumatic as a breakup – even if it’s only to a list of trusted friends.

“They are growing up in an environment, in a culture where you get constant feedback from others on yourself in ways that we never did,” says psychologist Linda R. Young, who teaches at Seattle University and writes about teens and technology.

“The private self and public self become intertwined in a way that we (older folks) can’t possibly understand,” Young says. “So they’re not embarrassed about some of the things that we think they should be embarrassed about because it’s an extension of the self that they’re used to having viewed.”

The trend toward online self-disclosure “really started with reality television and the confessional nature of that form of entertainment,” says Anastasia Goodstein, author of “Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online.” “And that began to permeate our culture.”

So when sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Xanga, where people can post everything from the mundane details of their days to their innermost thoughts, began gaining popularity, teens were ready to jump right in.

“Because they’ve grown up with the Internet and the ability to put that stuff online, it’s just become more comfortable for them,” Goodstein says.‘A generation thing’

It’s so comfortable that some worry that teens are inadvertently broadcasting to a wider audience than they intend.

Elli Langford, 19, a sophomore at Auburn University in Alabama, says that while she guards her own privacy by being selective about sharing information online, she has seen others display more than they should.

“I guess my generation really puts a lot less stock into privacy,” Langford says. “I mean, every other celebrity couple is letting movie cameras into their houses. And you’ve got shows like ‘The Hills’ and ‘Laguna Beach’ (both on MTV) where they’re in high school, but they’re letting cameras follow them around and putting their lives on TV. I guess it’s just like a generation thing.”

The issue is widespread enough that some schools, including Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, are offering seminars for students, staff and the community about the ramifications of using these sites.

A preference for privacy may be catching on. A study in April by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that 66 percent of teens who posted online profiles kept at least some part of them hidden from public view.

And most social sites, including MySpace and Facebook, are adding tools to protect – and, perhaps as important, control – the personal information of their users.

Kiyoshi Martinez, 23, a Web assistant for a chain of newspapers in Orland Park, Ill., says privacy settings give “people a willingness to use these social networks and put some elements of their lives out there. I think everyone is kind of the editor of their own lives.”

But the sense of control can be illusory, says Amanda Lenhart of the Pew project.

“Because there is that sense of greater privacy, teens believe that ‘as long as I control who is my friend, it’s no problem.'”

As teens have been learning recently, however, online areas you might think are private may not be. What goes on MySpace or Xanga, or even seemingly private e-mail, often does not stay there.

“We are all figuring out in real time what is socially correct and incorrect,” says Paul Saffo, technology forecaster and consulting associate professor of engineering at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

“The difference is (older folks) are doing it with dead, old technology that kids don’t use. They’re doing it with the new technology.”

Hard lessons

For the Web generation, socially correct is different from what it was for those who grew up before Google was a verb.

“The Internet generation” may not expect privacy in the same way older people do, but they do rely on trust, Jones says. “They expect that their peers will treat particular activities as private.”

If they go to a party where there’s underage drinking, for instance, they trust that their friends will keep it private, Jones says. And their intentions may very well be to do that.

But “people will leave this party, and they’ll think: ‘If I just share these photos with the people who were at the party, that’s fine.’ But what they end up doing more often than not is posting the photos in an online forum that seems private but is not.”

Says Internet safety consultant Parry Aftab, “You have this disconnect between what they know is risky and what they do anyway.”

Sometimes it takes a lesson – such as knowing that someone was denied a job because of a drunken picture posted on Facebook – for teens to understand the ramifications of their actions, says privacy expert Lauren Weinstein.

Teens in general tend to be lax about their privacy because “they don’t have a lot of baggage,” says Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility. But, he says, “they’re only OK with (being very open) until the point that it bites them.”

A networking tool

Most teens really do understand privacy more than many realize, Goodstein says.

“They’ve grown up with the reality that if you put things out there, things can happen,” she says. “People find out about things, and you just get a thicker skin or figure out how to manage your public identity and just bounce back from it.”

Martinez says he has weighed the risks and decided it’s worth the risk to divulge lots of personal information, including his work experience – even his address. He knows that anyone can find him anywhere and that his information could be abused.

“I’m personally just not concerned about people stalking me,” he says. “I’m more concerned with using my credit card information online than about having pictures of me out there.”

He says the question rarely comes up with his peers. But he has had conversations with older people “who refuse to go on Facebook or MySpace, or they don’t want anything to come up when you enter their name in Google.”

That, he believes, is foolish. “If people are interested in who you are, and you maybe want to use that as a way to network, why not have that up there and market yourself?”

Martinez has had job interviews through his posted rsum, and he found out about his current job through a friend on Facebook.

Putting his life online also allows him to more easily keep up with friends. “Maybe it’s a generational disconnect between seeing the Internet as a bogeyman, vs. “I really want to stay in touch with the people that I know.”

“Maybe that’s the main difference between the current generation and older generations. We want to be in touch with people and our friends and stay connected through the Internet, whereas security and privacy is maybe a secondary concern to us.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



Blog Stats

  • 74,854 hits
%d bloggers like this: