How have our notions of privacy shifted over the last two decades? Are we letting go of our expectation of it? Does a younger generation of digital natives care less about the issue?
Researchers and marketers have been examining these and related questions more closely in recent years because the answers are relevant for policy, legislation and guidelines surrounding privacy.
Interestingly, studies seem to indicate that the generational gap in this area is not as stark as is widely assumed. A 2013 Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll found that while online sharing was widespread among the young, older individuals were not too far behind. So, there may be a degree of stereotyping that comes into play when discussing the digital habits of millennials.
However, the same poll (as well as similar surveys) also found that millennials are less worried about being targeted by marketers than their parents. They express a higher degree of concern about government-backed surveillance but rarely change their online behaviour to reflect this concern.
To quote a senior Pew researcher associated with the study: “Privacy is not an on/off switch-it’s more like a spectrum. We make various choices in various situations, depending on perceived risks and benefits.”
For now, it appears as if the internet has redefined risk boundaries for everyone on it, regardless of when they were born.
Born Free to Share: A millennial viewpoint
I think technology is one of the greatest ironies of my life – the more I use it, the less I realize how much I rely on it. It seems to extend its influence a bit more everyday, whether it’s through a new app, a new device, or a new website. And so, when I do take the time to sit back and consider how deeply immersed I am in the digital realm, I’m always taken aback at how helpless I would be without it.
It’s quite clear that this intense dependence on the internet is shared by almost all millennials today, and social media in particular is a powerful force in our lives. A five second scan of a stranger’s Facebook timeline can give us their relationship status, their college, and details about their most recent road trip. This begs the question – with so much personal information readily available to the masses, has our sense of privacy and security diminished?
In general, I don’t feel threatened by the amount of information I share with others on the internet, and as far as I can tell, neither do my peers. I believe that this lack of concern stems from the way that teenagers take advantage of social media. We use it to manufacture new, virtual versions of ourselves, versions that are constantly laughing with friends or taking interesting trips. Because of the amount of control we can exert over our digital personas, we can ensure that the world only sees what we want them to see. Knowing that photographs or posts online may not be an entirely accurate representation of our experiences allows us to retain some semblance of privacy – only we know the real truth.
We undoubtedly share more of ourselves with the public than the generations before us did, but I think that the sheer number of young people revealing the same information about themselves quells any concerns we may have about security. Posting your hometown on Facebook or Instagram seems less frightening if you know that the majority of your friends are doing it too.
Additionally, as an article in The Atlantic points out, users of social media sites are already “primed to give up their right to be alone”. Most sites will ask strings of questions about your past education, relationships, and homes, making it seem as though it is perfectly safe and normal to post such things. These factors, along with the fact that young people are generally less paranoid about the dangers of the outside world than adults, are – in my opinion – what allow millennials to be unconcerned with their lack of privacy online. There are, of course, variations in terms of the amount of information that is shared, but as a group, we feel far less violated by digital sharing and are less likely to find it intrusive.
It’ll be interesting to see whether this feeling changes as we grow older and are faced with some of the harsh realities of the world, but for now, we are the generation that has grown up along with the internet, and we are not yet afraid of it.
Varsha Srinivasa is a 19 year old who is currently studying at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).