Today’s 30-somethings are the first generation whose children are coming of age alongside the social Web.
Technology is making an indelible imprint on modern parenting, and there is a sense that our data, our personal information, are no longer within our control. But new research findings indicate that openness and information sharing are a way of life for many adults, and personal privacy is readily compromised, along with personal information about one’s children.
In an attempt to understand how much privacy matters in this digital age, we questioned 4,000 young adults as part of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, the largest and longest-running nationwide survey of its kind.
The same participants have been surveyed every year since 1987, when they were public middle or high school students across the country. The sample is now 37 to 40 years old.
Nearly a quarter of these Generation X young adults expressed a high level of concern about online privacy, while 40% reported a low level of concern. But the behaviors were more telling: Nearly 70% said they have shared their own photos online and post about nine personal pictures each year.
More than half (55%) said they have shared information or posted pictures from a vacation. Also, nearly two-thirds of parents (66%) reported posting pictures of their children online, and slightly more than half (56%) shared news of a child’s accomplishment.
Well-intentioned parents with great instincts have a desire to share and connect about their children, which often helps foster and maintain social ties to relatives and friends. Our extended families live in different states, and we enjoy being able to keep up with siblings, nieces and nephews. But there is a cost to connection, and many are unclear about what is lost and what is at stake.
By and large, the short-term implications of less-guarded personal privacy may be limited in scope, such as being vulnerable to burglary if vacation plans are publicly announced or victim to possible identity theft. There are also amplified consequences to using poor judgment when posting online, such as getting fired or sustaining damage to one’s reputation.
But, there are also the decisions made about us that happen in the shadows, the calculations of who merits credit or constitutes an insurance risk, which are harder to track and weigh.
On the most basic level, we want to be able to tell our story about our lives. But, in the case of our children, a permanent and public story has already been recorded about them before they have a chance to decide whether they want to participate or even whether the narrative is true to their own vision of self.
In our survey, the greatest reported levels of concern about online privacy relate to online credit card use (67% said they were very or somewhat concerned) and online banking services (61%), followed by concerns about social networks (57%). Concerns about social networks were greater than those about online medical records, search engines, instant messaging and texting. How this concern translates into behavior is less clear.
The message from parents, as witnessed from behavior, is clear. Children grow up learning that posting pictures of one’s self and sharing personal information is typical. We’ve created a sense of normality about a world where what’s private is public. The sense of being entitled to privacy has been devalued.
And our children will never have known a world without this sort of exposure. What does a worldview lacking an expectation of privacy mean for the rest of society?
To read the entire story by Aisha Sultan and Jon Miller, go to CNN