What You Need to Know About Teens and Online Privacy

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Today’s teens have tech-saturated lives. And although smartphones and social media offer young people unique ways to connect and share like never before, threats to online personal safety and privacy are still a risk. Do teens care about online privacy? Yes, but they think about it very differently than adults.

YTH worked with The Digital Trust Foundation and Vodafone Americas Foundation to explore the relationship that teens have with online privacy and safety. We wanted to know how young people choose what to share online, what they do when they feel their privacy is being threatened, and what steps they take to protect their online safety. You can find the answers to these questions in our latest report, Teen Privacy and Safety Online: Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices. We combed through the latest research on teen privacy and online safety from danah boyd and the Pew Research Center. And we directly interviewed youth about their online safety practices and how they think about privacy. Here are a few key findings:

  1. Teens care about social privacy more than the privacy risks posed by third parties.
    Contrary to 46% of parents being very concerned about companies monitoring their online behavior, a small minority of teens online (9%) said they were concerned about outside company access to their personal information. Teens were more concerned about account hacking and reputation management among their peers.
  2. Parental concerns are at odds with teens’ confidence in managing their online safety.
    Parents did not report confidence in a teen’s ability to manage their safety online. Almost 72% of parents were concerned about how their child manages their reputation on social media and other networks. In contrast, teens reported high levels of self-efficacy, most often relying on themselves or their peers to fix privacy breaches or maintain security.
  3. Self-management of privacy settings is the primary mechanism to control online access.
    Teens primarily control access to their personal information by managing privacy settings. A majority of teen Facebook users (60%) keep their profiles private. Girls who used Facebook were more likely than boys to have a private profile (70% vs. 50%). In addition, teens are increasingly using peer-to-peer anonymous-sharing apps to maintain privacy and minimize the potential risk for harm.

When providing health information to teens, it’s important to meet them where they are—on social media and mobile devices. If you’re designing a digital health intervention, consider the ways you can make the experience more compatible with a teen audience. Download the report, Teen Privacy and Safety Online, to learn how to better address the privacy concerns of teens and engage them in discussions around minimizing risk in an always-connected world.


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