Is the concept of privacy changing?: Study

Current fears around online privacy seem to be a passing fad. “By 2020, members of Generation Y (today’s ‘digital natives’) will continue to be ambient broadcasters who disclose a great deal of personal information in order to stay connected and take advantage of social, economic, and political opportunities,” according to the Pew Internet Project’s just-released report on Millennials’ online-sharing habits. Even as they mature, have families, and take on more significant responsibilities, their enthusiasm for widespread information sharing will carry forward.” Fully two-thirds (67%) of technology experts Pew polled for the report agreed with that statement. Even as the debate over whether or not Net users care about their privacy continues (see this), some experts say the very definitions of “private” and “public” are changing, that “an awkward trial-and-error period is unfolding and will continue over the next decade, as people adjust to new realities about how social networks perform and as new boundaries are set about the personal information that is appropriate to share.”

So will Facebook privacy flaps subside? Less than a third (30%) of Pew’s respondents say probably not, because interest in privacy is an age or generational thing. Pew says this group cites “an array of factors that they believe will compel Millennials to pull back on their free-wheeling lifecasting [or realtime “broadcasting” online], including: fears that openness about their personal lives might damage their professional lives, greater seriousness in dating and family formation as people age, and the arrival of children in their lives.” Yet, some non-“digital natives” plaster the Web with baby pictures, seemingly more oblivious than younger users to the implications, and middle-schoolers I talk with are just as mindful as their worried parents about posting personal information online (maybe I’m hearing them echoing their parents’ advice to them). Basically, I agree with the majority of Pew’s expert panel (of 895 respondents) who think the definition of “privacy” is changing because of the media sea change we’re all experiencing much more than an age or generation issue – though of course youth tends to adjust to change more fluidly.


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