Surprise: Teens Actually Care About Online Privacy (Or do They?)

imageA new Zogby poll commissioned by the kids-focused online advocacy group Common Sense Media challenges the idea that kids today don’t care about online privacy. While some pundits believe that teens care very little about online privacy, the report suggests that teens are quite aware that social networks and search engines track their online behavior. I do have some doubts about this report, however.

A few weeks ago, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt jokingly told a shocked audience that it will soon be routine for adults to change their name in order to erase their misguided teenage online identities. According to the report, today’s teenagers are quite aware that their online data is being collected and storied by lots of companies. Indeed, the report notes that 92% of teens think that they should be able to delete all their personal information that search engines, social networks and marketing companies collect. The vast majority of them (85%) also believe that these sites should first ask them for permission before they begin to collect private information.

Can We Trust This Data?

I do have some doubts about this report, though. Fast Company’s Austin Carr points out that the report also suggest that 45% of teens read the terms and conditions of the sites they join. I find this extremely hard to believe. My best estimate is that about 0.1% of college educated adults read the TOS before joining a site and that the number of teens who do so is considerably smaller. T

This puts the rest of the study in doubt for me. Until we get to see the full report (it’s not available on Common Sense Media’s website yet) and the actual questions the pollsters asked (which could easily skew the answers), the overall quality of this study remains doubtful.

This study’s results also don’t quite mesh with data I’ve seen from the Pew Internet & American Life project. According to the most recent Pew data about this topic, in 2009, only about 33% of teens actually cared about how much information is available about them online – a number that had declined from 40% in 2006.