Privacy Not a Problem for Savvy MillennialsAUGUST 24, 2010
Lisa E. Phillips, Senior Analyst
Anecdotes abound about young adults’ shock and dismay at being denied college admission or jobs based on risqué photos and comments posted to their social network profiles. Their early adoption and frequent use of social media may have taught this audience some lessons the hard way. They are concerned about their personal information online, and they take steps to monitor it no matter who posts it.
An April 2010 Harris Poll found that the majority of young adult respondents had a good grasp of the trade-offs made when using social media. An overwhelming majority (85%) of millennials understood that participation in social media meant giving up some measure of privacy. Almost as many (81%) said that their social network profile was only a snapshot of who they really are. In addition, they were most likely to post an opinion—positive or negative—about a company, brand or product via some form of social media.
Despite their seemingly constant use of social networks, millennials do not trust them very much. In the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s “Reputation Management and Social Media” report, 28% of 18-to-29-year-olds said they “never” felt they could trust a social network site, and half (51%) said only “sometimes.” It should be noted that the survey was fielded in September 2009, long before Facebook launched the “Instant Personalization” and “like” features in April 2010 that drew so much criticism and forced the site to simplify its privacy settings.
Young women, the heaviest social network users, exhibit a cynicism toward Facebook that might surprise some marketers. A 2010 Oxygen Media Insights Group poll showed that 89% were aware that whatever they posted might be seen by their parents—no surprise there—while 72% felt that their posts to the site “will live forever.” More than half (54%) said they did not trust Facebook with their private information.
To deal with their distrust, young millennials are actively monitoring their online footprints, an activity that is not new for them, according to Pew. Between 2006 and 2009, more millennials said they took steps to limit the amount of information available about them online than did respondents in older age groups. Older internet users appeared to relax their vigilance online while millennials maintained theirs.
Millennials were more likely than older users to change their privacy settings as a means to limit their online information, delete people from their networks or other friends list, limit who could see certain updates and erase comments that others made on their profile pages. But they didn’t stop there: 44% said they filtered updates posted by friends, and 41% removed their names from photos that friends had posted and tagged.
On one hand, marketers that have built huge followings on social networks should feel flattered when members of this demographic choose to “like” their brands and products. On the other hand, their lack of trust in social networks makes their “fanning” or “liking” less than an accolade earned than a temporary badge. Young adults will not hesitate to remove any data they feel might be misused—by social networks, marketers or whoever else might be out there watching.
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