In my previous post I briefly mentioned the issue of passwords. The topic of passwords may not be as top-of-mind as sexting or bullying, but it’s important, and it definitely deserves some attention at home. Consider this the next topic for your dinnertime conversation.

Do young people care about privacy? Participants in MediaSmarts’ 2012 focus groups told us that they valued their privacy highly, despite being enthusiastic participants in platforms and activities that adults see as being about nothing but sharing and broadcasting. Looking at the findings from our Young Canadians in a Wired World survey of more than five thousand students from every province and territory in Canada, we can begin to understand that contradiction: young people may not care that much about what we think of as privacy, but they care very much about control – control over who can see what they post, over who can track them digitally and, most especially, over how other people see them.

Snapchat, the mobile app that lets users send “self-destructing” photos, has the distinction of being the only digital tool that does not have a single redeeming feature. While the moral panic associated with blogs, cell phones, social networks and online games has largely faded in grudging recognition of their more positive uses (indeed, research shows that many parents have actually helped their children lie about their age register for Facebook accounts), Snapchat is seen as the Q-tip of the digital age: its sole function is to do the thing that you’re warned not to do on the box.

Despite what many adults believe privacy matters to youth. More and more, though, youth are finding that their actions online are monitored – by parents, teachers, and corporations. A high school principal creates a fake Facebook profile page and adds over 300 of her school’s students as friends; a Texas middle-school plans to introduce ID cards with microchips that its students will be required to carry at all times; an Indiana high school student is expelled after a profane tweet (sent in the middle of the night from the student’s home computer) alerts his school’s monitoring system.

Young people today spend large amounts of time sharing parts of their personal lives online playing games, “checking in” with geolocation apps, posting photos and catching up with friends through social media. But despite this openness, privacy does indeed matter to youth, especially with their online actions being increasingly monitored by parents, educators, and corporations.

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