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Online privacy may not be an outdated idea after all

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A few dedicated OPC staffers spend much of their time visiting schools and talking to young people about why privacy is important.  If you believe a popular line of thinking, privacy may seem to be a lost cause in the age of online social networking and “anything goes” disclosure. We who talk to youth on a regular basis, however, are always pleasantly surprised that a generation that is growing up online shows such interest and enthusiasm about protecting their information.  It’s nice when research findings reflect our day-to-day observations that many young people are in fact proactive about protecting their online privacy.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project recently published a report entitled “Reputation, Management, and Social Media” in which it found that “younger users are far more active and deliberate curators of their online profiles when compared with older users.” This infographic shows other interesting report findings about how people interact and conduct themselves online.

Much of the debate around online privacy seems to revolve around binary choices: if you post information online then you can’t expect it to be private; if you join a social networking site then you must want to share your information with everyone.  But the reality is much more nuanced. As danah boyd and others have argued, people want to share information with people they themselves have chosen, via privacy settings. PEW found that 71% of social networking users ages 18-29 have changed the privacy settings on their profiles to limit what they share with others online, and 58% keep some people from seeing certain updates. Contrary to what some tech moguls might want you to believe, online privacy among young people is alive and well.

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