27 Oct 2014

The kids are alright: innovative ways youth protect their privacy online


 

“Privacy is about much more than just solving technical issues of access control. That is not how people live and experience privacy. Privacy is in many ways about controlling the social situation.” – danah boyd

Through our Contributions Program, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner provided funding to the non-profit organization Mediasmarts for Young Canadians in a Wired World, a nation-wide survey of Canadians between the ages of 9 to 17 about their privacy habits.  Adults typically argue that youth don’t take privacy seriously, but Mediasmarts’ study suggests young people do care about privacy, but see it differently from their parents or teachers. While adults may see privacy and security from the perspective of keeping young people safe from online dangers, many young people see privacy and security as a way to manage their reputations and identities online.  So while both groups view online privacy as important, they do so for different reasons and use different methods to protect themselves.

One of the focuses of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is promoting online safety.There are a lot of great resources and organizations out there to help with that (including on our website), but we thought we’d highlight some of the innovative and interesting ways researchers have found that young people have developed themselves to protect their privacy.

We want to highlight them for two reasons: to raise awareness among parents, teachers and other adults who influence kids that these practices do exist, and to demonstrate to adults that, contrary to popular opinion, young people actually care about their privacy and can go to great lengths to protect it.

White-walling: white-walling is the method of deleting a post after a specified period of time (generally when you post the next status update).  By doing this, kids minimize the risk of someone dredging up information from the past and using it against the individual in the future.

The super-logoffYou just don’t log out of your Facebook account, you delete it.  Since there are a few steps before you can remove a Facebook account completely, a super-logoff allows users to shut down their account when they aren’t using it.  This prevents other people from searching for information, writing on a user’s wall, or tagging photos when a user is not online.

Cloaking messages & different platforms:  According to Pew Internet Research, youth will often cloak their messages in order to mitigate having to “code switch” between their different audiences.  Oftentimes, youth will use different platforms to segregate their audiences.  For some, Facebook, for example, may contain more family whereas Instagram may be a place where users interact more with friends.  They will also use references that will be understood by their friends as being a double-entendre but that their parents and teachers would take at face value.  This allows them to communicate with their peers while still enjoying privacy from adult eyes.

Finally, teens are having fun with the ways their information is being used to target them for advertising.  They are amused by throwing in tidbits of information and watching the result of targeted advertising.  As danah boyd pointed out, “if you are a 15-year-old boy, nothing is funnier than using Gmail in a way that will trigger advertisers to send your friends diaper ads”.  So while adults may fret about the ways we are trying to keep children safe online, kids these days are also showing us new and surprising ways to protect information online.

New and innovative methods of protecting personal data are constantly being introduced online.  If you have heard of any inventive ways people are managing their privacy, be sure to leave them in the comments so we can highlight them in a future post.

Learn more about youth and online privacy by visiting the youth section of our website at – https://www.priv.gc.ca/youth-jeunes/index_e.asp


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