Privacy SOS

Stop saying young people don’t care about their privacy

Older people love to point at the young and dismissively declare that millennials, the first generation to grow up with the mobile internet and its many tracking apps, "don't care about their privacy." But that's not true. The young, studies show, want to be able to use the internet and retain control over their personal information. They want to share selfies, yes, but they also want to be able to control who sees them, and what companies can do with the trail of data surrounding them.

Two years after the Snowden revelations began, a new study underscores the point in a way that should make the Facebooks of the world turn their heads.

Tech Crunch reports:

In a report released this week (oddly) by USA Network, survey data shows that 55 percent of young people would eschew social media entirely “if they could start fresh.” Additionally, if major breaches of their privacy were to continue, 75 percent of young people said they were at least “somewhat likely” to deactivate their personal social media accounts, with 23 percent saying they were “highly likely” to do so.

Young Americans’ sense of privacy online has been so violated that most of them believe that it’s safer to store their personal data in a box than in the cloud. Indeed, the survey said that physical filing systems were actually listed as the “most trusted” personal data storage method for young people.

Young people grew up in a digital culture. They are not stupid about what this means for their privacy or ability to control the spread of information about themselves. Today the internet is controlled by large corporations and governments, which hoover up information about hundreds of millions of people as a central component of their business or organizational practice. Poll after poll show that young people are fed up with these entrenched interests, and envision a digital future wherein they retain more control over their personal lives while taking full advantage of the interconnected world. What we need next is to turn this commonsense view of our predicament into political action that fundamentally reshapes our relationships with corporations and the state.

We should be able to use smartphones without giving up control of something as sensitive as our location information to companies, governments, or crooks. Young people know that—and seem increasingly ready to push back—and I'm going to take it as a hopeful sign of things to come.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.