Do young people care about privacy?
by Jay Stanley - Senior Policy Analyst, American Civil Liberties Union - Friday, 3 May 2013.
Everywhere I go, I hear some variation of the claim that “young people today just don’t care about privacy.” This is something that people widely seem to believe is “just true.” The latest claim to this effect comes in the form of a new poll, the release of which was trumpeted with unfortunate headlines like “Millennials don’t worry about online privacy.”

In fact, the poll, which was conducted by the University of Southern California’s corporate-partnered Center for the Digital Future, showed no such thing. Although there were some differences between younger and older respondents, they were not nearly dramatic enough to warrant such headlines. I’ve been unable to find the poll itself and its methodology online, but the Annenberg Center press release summarizing those findings reports that:
  • Both Millennials (ages 18-34) and over-35 people believe in large numbers (70% and 77%, respectively, with a 3.1% margin of error) that “no one should ever be allowed to have access to my personal data or web behavior.”
  • Only 25% of Millennials agreed with the statement, “I’m ok with trading some of my personal information in exchange for more relevant advertising.” Among the over-35 set, it was 19%.
  • The most dramatic difference found was that 56% of Millennials would share their location with companies in exchange for coupons or deals, compared to 42% of the over-35 population. That’s still nearly half who did not agree that they would do so.
  • The poll found that Millennials are more frequent users of social networking sites, 48% vs. 20% of the over-35 population. That’s (a) hardly a surprise, and (b) hardly prima facie evidence of a lack of concern about privacy.
By framing its findings in such a way as to reinforce the broadly held prejudice that young people “don’t care about privacy,” Annenberg does a disservice.

Other polls, such as one released in 2010 by researchers at UC Berkeley School of Law, have found a high level of concern about privacy among adults aged 18-24, while similarly finding some marginal differences with older Americans. Insofar as there are differences, there are good explanations that don’t rely on the claim that there’s some massive generational shift in attitudes toward privacy going on:

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