Teens and Privacy

Not much surprising in this new survey.

Many teens ages 12-17 report that they usually figure out how to manage content sharing and privacy settings on their own. Focus group interviews with teens suggest that for their day-to-day privacy management, teens are guided through their choices in the app or platform when they sign up, or find answers through their own searching and use of their preferred platform.

At the same time, though, a nationally representative survey of teen internet users shows that, at some point, 70% of them have sought advice from someone else about how to manage their privacy online. When they do seek outside help, teens most often turn to friends, parents or other close family members.

Posted on August 20, 2013 at 7:10 AM25 Comments


Clive Robinson August 20, 2013 8:11 AM

In the light of recent relevations care of Mr Snowden and others, I think we can say that no matter how any one adjusts the privacy settings, if they make the mistake of confiding anything online than it can nolonger be considered private irrespective of what the business leaders concerned or politicians say…

The moral is “don’t say, and it can’t be revealed, all other bets are off”.

Aspie August 20, 2013 8:17 AM

@Bruce, @Clive

Teens are far more comfortable living their lives as sort of virtual Reality Shows than those even 20 years older. It makes one wonder what the world will be like when those teens become the bifocal generation. Will they be more circumspect – by which time it will be most probably way too late?

The “privacy” settings are, for most on this forum I would hazard, not worth the electrons they purport to be made of.
As you say Clive, keep shtum. The problem is even for those of us who skulk as much in the shadows as we can, it’s not enough. There’s always some nasty b—ards digging around for our information – nothing personal, just organised crime and government crime.

JohnP August 20, 2013 9:02 AM

This reads as if teens and 20-somethings actually consider what they post.

Sadly, my experience with family does not reflect that at all. I’ve seen female teen family members (plural) bragging about getting laid online. I cringe at the some of the things they write about upcoming family vacations … letting everyone in the world know which houses will be empty for 2 weeks.

Some people just don’t consider the consequences. That behavior problem has been happening for centuries. It isn’t just a teen problem. Anyone else remember Wiggy107 ?

There is no way to trust any 3rd party online service “security features”, so limiting what we say online needs to be 2nd nature. Facebook, twitter and 500 other services all love when we post TMI – Too Much Information, especially embarrassing photos or videos.

A few yrs ago, someone posted the G+ use by google management.
Hardly any Google managers used G+ at the time. I suspect it has not changed.

Malcolm Reynolds August 20, 2013 9:13 AM

As a teenager, I often find myself advising my parents on their online security rather than going to them for advice. Perhaps I’m an outlier, but it seems as though some teens, particularly those who understand that the internet is a dangerous place (shudder 4chan), are more security conscious than any previous generation. At the same time of course, I still have plenty of friends who are more than willing to treat Facebook as their diary without any regard for the fact that anyone can read it. So perhaps, in the future, the NSA’s data mining algorithms will look not for those who release massive amounts of personal information, but those who are fairly silent, like me.

Kevin an Auditor August 20, 2013 10:17 AM

Reading the survey made me want to laugh:

  1. Self-reported data of any type (beyond, maybe, age), is always questionable. They really ought to have asked for the participant’s online “handle” (or better yet, just their name), a few questions about how private they believed their postings were, and then visited the pages/accounts to compare the participants’ perceptions with reality.
  2. As is usual with such surveys, the participants were selected by Random Digit Dialing (RDD). But people who are security/privacy aware do not answer strange numbers on their personal phones! (This effect has, in fact, been shown to skew some surveys).

As a father, I fought a losing battle to keep my kids off Zuckerberg’s Intel Titan (ZIT). But have had to settle for the frequent lecture about never believing it’s actually private, and never posting anything that would be, or could in the future construed to be, compromising.

John Doe August 20, 2013 10:32 AM

Overall a good sign that some teens are thinking about what content gets shared with who. The real question is whether they will regret the sharing decisions they do make as they become mature individuals and their relationships with various peer groups change.

Example of Flawed Risk calculation:

Mom shouldn’t see that I was at a party instead of sleeping over my Friends house. However it’s ok to publicly announce my pop culture stereotype driven anti-government political opinions

(One of these things will effect a law enforcement career path and one of them will not….)

Peter A. August 20, 2013 10:32 AM


People not picking up calls from unknown numbers is one thing, people picking up but then refusing to participate in a survey is still another thing that adds up.

I’d say any survey about privacy issues is a ill-thought-out idea, and badly skewed from the very start – only people who don’t care much about their privacy will participate.

jonesy August 20, 2013 11:11 AM

1. Many accounts, how many handles? If few to none use real name… the first cumbersome enough to turn away respondents, the second irrelevant to too intrusive. Else it’s a good idea to match respondent to account.
2. Good luck. If pre-teen, any site should be sanitized to a fair-thee-well; if teen, double good luck. You will have had to have had the great luck, talent, skill, love, foresight, and perseverance to hope to have raised young’uns that’ll truly listen and attend what you say.
Else it’s repressive command and automatically rejected. Sorry, man, that’s as old as generations.
Only type of argument I know with a chance of success is couched in ways showing how someone else can gain leverage and damage reputation amongst peers.

From Bruce’s recent newsletter on restoring trust, “This sort of thing [gov’t and corp. lies] can destroy our country. Trust is essential in our society. And if we can’t trust either our government or the corporations that have intimate access into so much of our lives, society suffers.”

It’s already too late on all counts, unless one believes that there is still the time necessary for all these to happen:
1. Vote out all incumbents who don’t pass your own privacy criteria. Do that twice to reject those already into the national and state streams of candidates pre-approved by the various party’s machinery.
2. Starting now all of us must vote at the local level – city and county – to get people we approve into the pipeline that we create.
3. Wait ten to twenty years for our choices to work their way up to Congress and Executive (and thus also federal judgeships.)
There is some hope here, because after even a few years the powers-that-be will take notice and may, just may, make changes to fall in line with public interests.

The only other thing I can think of is to strictly observe the proposals of David Brin in “The Transparent Society” – basically everything is open and known.
In my book, that’s everything. NO exceptions. If one doesn’t want the nuclear launch codes to be a danger, then get rid of the nukes. Seriously. No secrets whatsoever. Please note that “not secret” doesn’t require publishing all, only that everything be freely and easily findable and seen.

Would there be adjustment problems? Oh, Lordy, yes. But the alternative is the current situation where only the powerful can know all and the rest of us are left with what we disclose ourselves to each other.

I see no middle ground. YMMV.

Justin King-Lacroix August 20, 2013 12:47 PM

I feel like the comments are missing the point: privacy, like security, is about whom you are defending from. I doubt what they’re thinking about is whether Facebook Inc is going to advertise to them, or whether the NSA is watching. I would think it’s more likely to be whom on their social circle they’re telling that bit of personal information to. Continuing the example, Facebook’s privacy settings are well-suited to that case.

Kevin an Auditor August 20, 2013 12:48 PM


You do have an office – wide policy of not participating in “customer satisfaction” or “service satisfaction” surveys, don’t you?

I know the topic of social engineering attacks has been discussed on this site before, but I feel the need to point out that the target or purpose of such attacks is not always the server or network. A skilled interviewer can get a chatty receptionist to provide a fair outline of a modest size company’s personnel, equipment, operations and even clients! Such calls can come from “the new guy” of a usual vendor with a little convincing information (the model number of a copier, etc.).

Ever notice how many ads for receptionists ask for an “outgoing personality?”


Five or six years ago, when I saw my teen sitting adjacent her mother with Facebook up on her laptop, I knew I was out-numbered. So a few days later I used a “dust” attack (evil maid) to get her password, and then was able to guess a couple of her friends’, and then wrote my concerns as a posting (from themselves, of course). My daughter and her friends were truly alarmed. I reminded her that I’m no hacker, but I work with a guy who has hacked some pretty tough nuts, and for that matter, there are services all over the internet that claim to provide password cracking. My kids know I’m (mostly) “on their side”. I pointed out that not everyone is.

I actually don’t have much trouble with my kids. My only demand on them is that they act ethically. I’ve not ever heard that they haven’t
(P.S. – catholic schools, even if you don’t much care for the Bishop of Rome).

Alex August 20, 2013 1:06 PM

Teens know what privacy is? Bahahaha… that’s a good laugh. Ever seen a teenager’s Facebook/Instagram/MySpace(anyone use this anymore?)/Twitter feed? They post everything. You practically even know what their bowel habits are.

@tt9656k3i557irr: I find the GCHQ actions scary & laughable at the same time. I’m not sure about other companies, but in our office anything important has multiple copies stored all over the place. For something like the Snowden docs, I think I would have tarballed it and let it loose on the Torrents. I wasn’t a huge fan of Wikileaks, but seeing heavy-handed moves by the US & UK gov’ts is starting to change my mind. When information becomes illegal, we’ve got a whole new world of problems to deal with.

Kevin an Auditor August 20, 2013 1:52 PM

@ tt9656k3i557irr
@ Alex
From the Miranda detention:
“police confiscated a computer, two pen drives, an external hard drive…
“They got me to tell them the passwords for my computer and mobile phone,”

Does that mean that Greenwald et al., have been reading “Schneier on Security” and Miranda did not have the passwords for the external hard drive and pen drives? Or maybe the storage was wiped and GCHQ will spend a lot of time trying to hack entropy? Sending Miranda through UK territory seems sloppy, considering the president of Bolivia had his plane diverted in this case. Or was it a taunt?

Wikileaks has released an encrypted, 400GB torrent labeled ‘Insurance” and asked people to mirror it. No one knows what it really is. Speculation all over: http://www.dailydot.com/politics/wikileaks-insurance-file-facebook-encrypted/

Alex August 20, 2013 5:40 PM

@Kevin an Auditor:
To be honest, I’m surprised he carried anything with him given how sticky border patrol agents in the US (assuming UK would be similar) are with digital devices & digital media.

At my company, we ship blank laptops abroad. Users then remote into us. At the end, they nuke the HDD and the laptop gets shipped back to us, separate from the user.

Autolykos August 21, 2013 4:01 AM

@Alex: Seems sensible. You never know what those Chinese are up to. Oh, you were talking about the US? Never mind then…

tt9656k3i557irr August 21, 2013 6:27 AM

Information is abundant and secrecy is at a premium, and far too many people in power have no clue how half of the technology they rely on work. So the assumption is that you (a government, an agency or a corporation) can stop the flow of information you don’t like and drown out the residue with useless information the general public likes.

It looks like the journalists here really didn’t see this one coming. My guess is they still believe in the ideals that were erased by the anti-terror laws of the past 10 years.

tmana August 21, 2013 6:50 AM

Privacy has become a thing of the past. Come to think of it, privacy is largely an aberration in the 6000+ years of what we consider “civilization”. Whole families living in a single tent or cave, walls thin enough (or nonexistent) that everybody’s business is public knowledge. No different than share-everything-on-the-Internet today.

That said, distance and technology (or lack thereof) meant one’s sexual, political, and health issues rarely traveled more than 100 miles — and unless you were being considered as a potential spouse for someone else’s child, irrelevant enough to be ignored.

Unless you’re looking for a job, crowdsourcing health management (or something else), or being targeted by an increasingly-intrusive Nanny State government, it’s just as irrelevant today.

Scott "SFITCS" Ferguson August 21, 2013 8:10 AM

@ tmana

Privacy has become a thing of the past. Come to think of it, privacy is largely an aberration in the 6000+ years of what we consider “civilization”. Whole families living in a single tent or cave, walls thin enough (or nonexistent) that everybody’s business is public knowledge. No different than share-everything-on-the-Internet today.

Completely different.

Whereas the youth of every era practised the skills necessary to succeed the old, and paraded in public – the males using peacock mating ritual displays of “how tough am I” to demonstrate their abilities to potential mates, the females accentuating the visual indicators of fecundity, both genders inventing their own dialects and embracing customs to distinguish themselves from the elders they need to overthrown, while the threatened elders invent reasons why the youth should serve, obey, and submit… what has changed, and what has never occurred before is that there is no privacy anywhere.

In your analogy you could always walk outside the tent, or cave, and find privacy.

Today Internet surveillance is only a small part of the loss of privacy – there is almost(?) nowhere you can find privacy. Increasingly even attempting to find privacy is viewed as suspicious behaviour.

Lock yourself in your room and avoid electronics – but you still have no privacy. Hike into what little remains of the “wilderness” or set yourself a drift – still no privacy. Only the illusion of privacy.

While some may argue that the world will adapt, as Japan has, they overlook the fact that Japan might be crowded, but it always had the possibility of privacy.

The long term effects of the loss of global privacy are unknown – but I suspect R. D. “I’m no musician” Lang was right when he postulated that “insanity is a sane reaction to an insane world“.

I consider information to be the most valuable commodity on the planet, and we live in a era where we can almost touch the possibility that information will be available to all who want it. Unfortunately it’s also the biggest threat to those whose positions are made possible by informational asymmetry – and the same mechanism that makes information for all possible is being used to deny that access while simultaneously removing the privacy of all.

Much of the focus on privacy of late has been on the US surveillance regimes – in fact the problem is global. I suspect the problem won’t be solved, if ever, unless addressed as a human problem.

Bob Robertson August 21, 2013 8:43 AM

Excuse me, but 12-17 are not children in any way but law.

They certainly lack experience, but not intelligence, and their command of the technologies they use every day may not be deep, but it’s certainly broad.

No surprise they can configure their own settings, that ability does not magically appear at 18 the same way all the other life skills, such as picking good political candidates, child rearing, and a full knowledge of everything to do with “adult” relationships does.

Clive Robinson August 21, 2013 9:26 AM

@ Bob Robertson,

Whilst teens may have a lot of knowledge and skills derived from it, what they tend to lack is the wisdom which indicates when certain behaviours are inadvisable. And often they to easily fall into the “group think” or tribe behaviour which to often decends to the lowest common denominator.

There is also an increasing body of scientific evidence that adolescents don’t think or behave in ways that either children or adults do and that it is actually pre-programed biologicaly belive it or not as a workable survival stratagie.

This difference is often most easily detected when either a teen or a supervising adult says in frustrated / angry tones to the other “You just don’t get it!” (or similar ;-).

Alex August 21, 2013 3:11 PM

@Autolykos: It’s 100% because of the US & UK border patrol agents being very sticky and nosy. Ironically, the vast majority of my company’s work comes from the courts and law enforcement. YET, we feel the need to protect our data from them and their incompetence.

@Winter: The same locks you’d use against any professional burglars. You make sure everything is documented, monitored, and logged and make it clear to outsiders that something along those lines is in place. The more the police think that action against you will produce a public reaction with plenty of evidence/documentation of what they’ve done, the less likely they are to bother you. Sunlight makes the roaches scatter. Granted, the gov’ts have been very sloppy if not arrogant as of late. We may have indeed hit the point of no return. GCHQ’s actions at the Guardian offices were flat-out amateurish and I’m hoping someone in the UK gov’t has enough bollocks to get them under control quick.

@tt956….: I’m surprised on the journalists’ reactions to this as well. Mostly surprised that the entire journalistic community hasn’t come out on the heavy-handed approach the US & UK are taking at this time. From diverting flights to detaining journalists, it’s obvious the governments have no problem acting like bullies. It’s about time the journalists band together and get the public riled up over this. So often I hear Ma & Pa Kettle saying “I’ve got nothing to hide,” not fully understanding the implications of what’s going on today.

It’s ironic in a way, but back around December I started going back through the assigned readings from school & college and actually reading them for once. I think I read about 10% of the assigned readings over the years; still graduated with honours. At any rate, I read Fahrenheit 451 back in February and started 1984 as the IRS scandal was breaking. Is it me, or are the governments using this as a planning tool? I know DPRK appears to have used 1984 exclusively as a how-to manual.

Dirk Praet August 21, 2013 6:12 PM

Many teens ages 12-17 report that they usually figure out how to manage content sharing and privacy settings on their own.

Which kinda begs the question to which point they in fact are getting it right, which apparently was not part of the survey. My personal field experience verifying FB privacy and content sharing settings of both teens and adults is telling me an entirely different story, even with those that were reasonably sure or even absolutely convinced everything was hunky dory. Needless to add that the majority had no idea either as to which extent both FB and the IC are data mining everything they put online, regardless of their privacy settings.

@ Justin King-Lacroix

I doubt what they’re thinking about is whether Facebook Inc is going to advertise to them, or whether the NSA is watching.

True, but that’s the digital equivalent of a teen having sex with only one partner as to avoid STD’s, but then completely ignoring the fact that without protection it can also cause pregnancy.

@ tt9656k3i557irr et al

I don’t want to sound like a git, but please play nice by posting OT-issues in the weekly Squid section as to avoid similar discussions in different threads. Makes for a much better and informed debate.

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