Millennials do care about Internet privacy, they’re just smarter about it

An Annenberg Center survey reveals younger folks are more willing to share personal data -- but also more likely to demand something in return

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Oh those wacky millennials, they’ll share anything with anyone.

At least that’s their reputation. And USC’s Annenberg Center for the Digital Future seems to confirm it, publishing the results of a new survey coupled with a spiffy, blog-friendly infographic:

Here’s what the survey actually says about millennials, defined here as people age 18 to 34:

* They are more frequent users of social media sites and have more contact with actual friends online. No big surprise there.

* 70 percent of millennials are “uncomfortable with others having access to their personal data online or information about their web behavior,” versus 77 percent of the rest of us. Sounds like the younger generation is still pretty concerned about their privacy, right?

* 56 percent of millennials would be willing to share their location data in order to get coupons and deals at local restaurants and stores, versus just 42 percent of oldsters. Of course, sharing your location data doesn’t necessarily mean sharing your personal info, as anyone who’s redeemed a FourSquare or Offerbeam coupon can tell you. The devil here is in the details – how much information, how identifiable, gathered by whom, stored for how long? The survey never goes that deep.

* One in four millennials would be willing to trade some personal information to receive targeted ads, or about six percent more than the rest of us. (It’s not like they really have a lot of choice these days.)

Differences? Yes. But not radical ones. And with a margin of error of  plus or minus 3.1 percent, possibly not that big at all. Elaine Coleman of Bovitz, the survey company used by Annenberg, captures the differences rather neatly:

“Millennials think differently when it comes to online privacy,” said Elaine B. Coleman, managing director of media and emerging technologies for Bovitz. “It’s not that they don’t care about it -- rather they perceive social media as an exchange or an economy of ideas, where sharing involves participating in smart ways.

“Millennials say, ‘I’ll give up some personal information if I get something in return,’” said Coleman. “For older users, sharing is a function of trust -- ‘the more I trust, the more I am willing to share.’”

In fact, 51 percent of millennials say they are willing to trade some info for something of value, versus 40 percent of us codgers. What that proves is they understand what’s going on with their data far better than we do. The question then becomes, what’s your data worth? Right now the advertising industry sets the terms and says take it or leave it. In the future, this will likely become much more of a negotiation.

Yet, amazingly, the notion that Facebook- and Twitter-savvy Netizens are willing to trade their information for something of value got translated as “Millennnials don’t worry about online privacy” (USA Today). Annenberg itself titled the news with “Is online privacy over?”

Jeffrey Cole, director of the Annenberg Center, went even further:

"Online privacy is dead -- Millennials understand that, while older users have not adapted...This demonstrates a major shift in online behavior -- there’s no going back."

Bitches, please.

Online privacy is not dead. It has been thoroughly mugged and tossed into a ditch by the side of the road by the online advertising industry (and our shadowy friends in the Surveillance Industrial Complex), but it’s been taken to the ER and quite likely to stage a recovery.

I look at my kids, part of the post-millennial generation too young to be surveyed by Annenberg. Yes, they share more than I would like, sometimes. I’ve had to talk to my high-school-age son about how his online activity could end up kicking him in the buttocks when he applies to colleges next year.

But by and large they’ve learned how to game the system. My son sussed out quite quickly how to master Facebook’s privacy settings to keep his parents from seeing stuff he didn’t them to know. (He wasn’t quite so good about logging out of Facebook after borrowing my laptop, however. Some secrets really aren’t.)

My middle-school daughter is a master of disguise online, with multiple personae on different social media services. I can’t even keep up with them. She has her creepy stalker detection radar set to high.

They are learning how to handle themselves in the brave new digital world they grew up in far better than I can, and I get paid to know this stuff. If they don’t seem to care about online privacy, it’s because they feel like they have it under control.

Bottom line: Millennials and post-millennials do care about their privacy. They’re just smarter about it than the rest of us.

Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blogeSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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