My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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adults’ views on privacy (new PEW report)

PEW has a new report out on adults and privacy: Digital Footprints. It’s a solid report on the state of adults’ perception of privacy wrt the internet. Of course, what amuses me is that adults are saying one thing and doing another.

Adults are more likely than teens to have public profiles on SNSs. 60% of adults are not worried about how much information is available about them online. (Of course, young adults are more likely than older adults to believe it would be “very difficult” for someone to locate or contact them.) 61% of adults do not bother to limit the amount of information that can be found about them (including many who are purportedly worried).

In other words, adults (and presumably there are parents in this group) are telling teens to be careful online and restrict what information they put up there while they themselves are doing little to protect their own data.

This reminds me of adults who tell their kids never to meet strangers online under any circumstances and then proceed to use online dating sites and, rather than meet in public places, choose to go to the stranger’s private residence. Adults need to think about safety too – it’s not a story of binaries. The safe and practical approach is somewhere between abstinence and uber risky behavior.

Both adults and children need to learn how to negotiate safety and privacy in a meaningful and nuanced way. Adults need to socialize young people into conscientious participation online, both wrt to privacy and safety. You cannot simply wait until teens are 18 and then flip the switch and say GO! This has dreadful and dangerous consequences.

Anyhow, I’m not doing justice to the PEW report. Read it yourself. It’s quite interesting and there’s great data and it’s well situated.

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11 comments to adults’ views on privacy (new PEW report)

  • Johnny

    Well, as an adult and a parent (albeit a parent with children too young to read), I can tell you how this happened. First, I noticed that there was a bunch of stuff on the Internet about me, even before I recognized that stuff I did would show up in searchable form under by name. Then Google made the entire USENET archive searchable, so all the stuff that I wrote on USENET in the two week period in 1993 when I discovered USENET was suddenly visible in a search under my name. So then, my name was already out there. I already had a public profile before I could do anything about it.

    It seems to me that the situation has improved, in that now we have some control over a public appearance that previously we weren’t even aware of.

    For kids, my recommendation would be the old “front page of the New York Times” rule. That is, don’t put anything online that you don’t feel comfortable seeing on the front page of the New York Times. That doesn’t restrict someone from putting *anything* online, just to thinking before posting.

    That said, it appears that all you need to have an online profile is a physical address. The other day when I Googled myself, I saw a “people search” link showing my last five addresses in two states, as well as the names of my mother and sister.

  • Personally I like the idea of using ClaimID/OpenID. It gives me control of my identity on the Net if it is posted and claimed and verified by me and ClaimID then it is me.

  • You seem to be suggesting parental attitudes are hypocritical but isn’t that looking rather narrowly at what parents are saying? I’m not a parent but if I were concerned about my child’s privacy online it would be predominantly because they lack the maturity to deal with certain things appropriately, not because I’m concerned about privacy online specifically.

    I don’t see how this is any different from feeling it’s inappropriate to let a teenager see a restricted film but deciding that as a 25-year-old I will go and see it myself. I agree from the point of view of the the teenager that it looks hypocritical but then a lot of things look hypocritical from the point of view of a teenager.

  • Did anyone read the questionnaire? There’s some pretty basic items in there about privacy: googling your name and email address, privacy options on Flickr, YouTube or Facebook. It’s helpful to rethink these things sometime. Security isn’t all about SSL and Tor, which is a trap I sometimes fall into.

    I am thankful that there’s a lot of people with my exact name, so googling it turns up all kinds of folks. Only a ten-year old email address of mine shows up in Usenet postings, like Johnny said.

    The questionnaire though is thorough and a good starting point. It would work well condensed as a brochure or HOWTO. Rather than just remarking on a lack of privacy attention, it would be good to have a simple tool to promote it.

  • Hollie

    Thank you! I’m so tired of adults saying one thing and doing another! I see so many adults who talk about getting good grades, taking responsibility for actions, and then they joke about talking their way out of tickets, stealing other people’s ideas and work. It is the same thing as telling kids not to smoke or do drugs, while the parents go out and get trashed every weekend. Adults need to MODEL behaviors, not just talk about them. It always warms my heart when I hear kids hold their parents accountable for their behavior. Granted, appropriateness is certainly important, but I strongly believe in walking the walk.

  • Thanks for the link. I have to say I’ve not yet read the entire report, so can’t comment properly on that. Having said that I do agree with what you are saying. As a parent, I already teach my children how to behave in so many situations and I don’t see the online environment as separate from that.

    Googling my name turns up a lot of stuff I have done for work and community life. I value the open sharing of knowledge and work collaboration. In order to do so, I do reveal some aspects of my personal life as well. It is a risk I am constantly monitoring and weighing. And I think that will be the one thing I will be modelling for my children – that unlike “real life”, online, one needs to be constantly managing the risks.

  • Hmmm, as if on cue, they just posted an update on Teens and Social Media today.

  • Tex

    Ironically, your post on Leopard not loading things correctly is not loading.

    Have you tried opening a terminal window and using the ‘top’, ‘ps -eax,’ or various UNIX memory checking commands (I don’t have a mac in front of me so I can never remember which they have – vmem? free? apropos memory?) ? It might give you an idea if there’s a particular app or service slowing things down. Then you can kill it and consider uninstalling that particular object.

  • As the creator of the 16th Commercial Internet Site in the 1980’s (SEED.NET — the Start-Up Entrepreneurial Economic Development Network)we had 2,000 more users than AOL when we started and Steve Case and Wozniak were friends, as one of the founders of USIIA, of CMU’s Andrew, and of the AOL Greenhouse — I can give you an entirely different insight and perspective on “social networks and social networking” that none of your writings have yet mastered. I believe it is the actual glue that keeps inter-networking happening — whether on the USENET, BITNET, ARPANET, FIDONET, etc.
    Vibrant communities of interest, and free-thinking and interaction bring life to otherwise boring ways to communicate online. In the 1980’s, I worked hard with BBSing, groupware, and collaboration over networks — as this was the ‘real’ origins of today’s Internet-based ‘social networks.’ Then, we had the Well, out your way, and in Pittsburgh, where I am based — and throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania — we had great BBSes with FIDONET as the main transmission between ‘communities.’ BBSing began from Ham Operators, and from the Apple Computer — which was dominant in education settings. Students then wanted to adopt your approaches to social networking (I’ve read all of your .pdf papers and studied your work in Negroponte’s Media Lab. We should talk sometime, I’ll give you a perspective, you haven’t thought about yet.

  • Ron Mecredy

    danah, your blog made me think of the student out here in VA that posted a vmail from the angry adminstrator’s wife about being called about snow closing school. There is a cultural divide about what is the appropriate time to call and who to call. The ensuing firestorm from the youtube/facebook posting created another “privacy” divide. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/01/22/ST2008012203683.html

    Aside…I used to use FIDONET to trade genealogy files. Curious to see if the discussion with Frank Sowa resulted in a new blog.

  • Candace

    I agree with what you’ve said here. I’m a very responsible internet user, and I’m a teenager. But my parents taught me well. I have met someone from the internet. There were very strict rules for this meeting, though. I met this person in public, all my friends knew I was meeting this person, and a friend of mine was there, watching in the background. I’m glad I found this page so I could send it to an adult I know, because she’s going to meet someone from the internet, and he’s going to be staying at her house.