Surprise! Young users most in tune with online privacy

If you think younger users are too naive or cavalier to worry about privacy, think again

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When adults talk about personal privacy on sites like Facebook, someone is bound to contend that that young people are too self-absorbed or too naive to care about securing personal information that's stored in various places online.

Well, according to a study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, someone who takes that position is likely wrong.

The Pew survey of 2,253 Americans found that people aged 18 to 29 are more likely than older adults to take steps to limit others from accessing their personal information online. The study results, released Wednesday, noted that 44% of younger adults try to protect their information, compared to 33% of users between 30 and 49, and 25% of those between 50 and 64.

"Search engines and social media sites now play a central role in building one's identity online," said Mary Madden, a Pew senior research specialist, in a statement. "Many users are learning and refining their approach as they go, changing privacy settings on profiles, customizing who can see certain updates and deleting unwanted information about them that appears online."

And she added that people have a misunderstanding of how vigilant younger users are.

"Contrary to the popular perception that younger users embrace a laissez faire attitude about their online reputations, young adults are often more vigilant than older adults when it comes to managing their online identities," said Madden.

The survey found that 71% of younger users of social networks have changed the privacy settings on their profiles to limit what is shared with others, while only 55% of social networkers between the ages of 50 and 64 have changed their default settings.

Younger users also are more likely to delete unwanted comments from their social networking pages, and to remove their names from photos that their friends have posted, the survey found.

The Pew report is based on telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

Online privacy has increasingly become a hot button issue, especially in social networking circles.

Just yesterday, Facebook rolled out new, simpler privacy controls in an attempt to appease users of the social network who had grown angry and frustrated over their inability to limit who has access to personal information posted on the site.

The unrest among users had escalated in recent months, and many apparently at least considered quitting Facebook.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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