Youth, Privacy, and Online Media

As you read this article, reflect on how our expectations of privacy have changed over the past few generations. After you read, take some time to think about the activities you engage in that could be subject to data collection. Does this bother you? What do you do to limit the data collected from your online activity? Write an essay of two or three paragraphs summarizing your thoughts.

The Danish focus group study "Teens' private and public lives on social media": Methodology

Level of knowledge

   "It's unpleasant when I think about it ... but then I just want to look at Facebook again ..."

The final theme of the focus group study focused on the respondents' level of knowledge and assessment of risks regarding privacy issues such as surveillance and commercial use of their data. The respondents were asked to reflect on these themes via concrete examples related to their use of – and opinions about – social media. While the respondents were very reflective and aware of the way in which they present themselves and protect their privacy with regard to their close relations, it was much more difficult for them to reflect on institutional privacy, for example, commercial use of data, data mining and surveillance.

When asked specifically about user consent, unsurprisingly, none of the interviewed had read the terms and conditions they had consented to, and most had created their profiles at a time when they were relatively young (usually under 13). "You have heard that you probably should read those terms and conditions, because we do not know our rights. But we were very young when we created it. And then we just clicked yes" (girl, 17 years old). The social value of using social media was perceived as significantly larger than the risks of potential privacy abuse. The general opinion amongst the interviewed was that if you want to use social media you need to accept the conditions which includes giving up some of the rights to your content. "I guess it doesn't matter to read it (terms and conditions) because if you want a profile then you need to accept them. It doesn't matter what it says" (boy, 16 years old).

In general, the respondents had limited knowledge about how their information and pictures might be used commercially and showed little concern on the future use of their personal data. Some did talk about personal experiences discovering that one of their images have been used by others to create fake profiles or remembered to have been puzzled over where and how other people had found out information about them. But generally the respondents found it hard to imagine that their personal data would be of interest to anyone. When asked specifically about "surveillance" many of the respondents reflected on governmental access to social media. But frequently "surveillance" was described as something remote that would take place in 'totalitarian states' far away. "I feel it's not a problem (ed. state surveillance). It's unpleasant when I think about it. But then I just want to look at Facebook again and then it does not matter" (girl, 16 years old). In cases where the respondents were asked to think further about potential state surveillance, it was described as in principle 'not okay', 'uncanny' and 'uncomfortable': "... Just the thought is indeed uncanny. If the state monitors you personally. They do not have the right to do that and they shouldn't have the right either" (boy, 17 years old). "It's a scary thought. But this only takes place in totalitarian places. But then again for instance in the United States right now where we have the NSA with Edward Snowden and all that. Where they spy on different people through social media and Google. It's not a very comforting thought" (girl, 16 years old).

In summary, in line with previous studies the respondents were very conscious about protecting their image/self-representation and flow of information amongst their peers, friends and family, whereas potential privacy risks related to the state or to private companies received limited attention. One 16-year-old girl, for example, remarked "Maybe my messages are subject to surveillance, but what can they use it for? You decide for yourself, what to share" (girl, 16 years old). The quote is indicative of a sentiment that many of the interviewed shared, namely that you exercise privacy control by decisions on what to share on Facebook and what not, yet once information is "out there", your ability to exercise control vis-`-vis Facebook is limited, whereas some social control remain. The expectation of (some) control over their social privacy was exemplified by various social norms and strategies whereby the interviewed regulated information and not least photo sharing amongst their group of peers. Generally, the respondents had limited knowledge of privacy and data protection as legal rights that the individual might claim towards the state or a private company. On the contrary the interviewed expressed that by joining Facebook, you sign away your rights, especially related to photos. More importantly, several of the interviewed expressed that in reality you have no choice but to accept Facebook's terms of use.