It seems to be a common assumption that the younger the individual the less concerned they are about online privacy. Sure, the youth have been quick to adopt social platforms and many surveys show their lack of regard for how their personal data is used and viewed by others. To a certain extent this is a problem, but I would argue that a significant proportion of the youth demographic are even quicker than the older demographic groups to find fixes to these privacy problems.
This same group, whom many analysts stereotype as naïve about sharing and online privacy, are also the same group we herald as ‘digital natives’. The youth instinctively understand what it means to be digital, part of which means failing fast and finding new and better ways of behaving online. Here are two trends that show the youth displaying a greater need for control over their online privacy:
The shift from open to private channels
Parmy Olsen in the Observer contends that the youth are moving away from platforms like Facebook in preference for more private channels like Whatsapp. Drawing on data from Mobile Marketing magazine she reports that:
“[Whatsapp] has more than 350 million monthly active users globally. That makes it the biggest messaging app in the world by users, with even more active users than social media darling Twitter, which counts 218 million.”
With Facebook’s growth driven by the older demographic, the youth are increasingly becoming inhibited in what they share on Facebook causing lower levels of engagement. Whilst Facebook supports sharing filters it is not as easy as opening a conversation with selected people on services like Whatsapp.
Learning how to forget
In addition to the shadow of parents and employers, the major social networks have not learned how to forget. It is part of the process of growing up that the young push the boundaries of what is acceptable and make lots of mistakes along the way. It is the best way to learn and needs protecting, which means the web needs to learn how to forget.
Snapchat, the ephemeral new social photo messaging service, at its core allows the user to control how long the recipient can view the message. Snapchat is a private channel similar to Whatsapp but it knows how to forget, perfect for the youth audience. Snapchat have not published any user numbers, but, it is clearly growing quickly and seen as an important innovation in the market for social networking services. So much so that Reuters reported that Snapchat rejected a $3billion acquisition offer from Facebook.
With so much interest in Snapchat it is clear that incumbent social networks recognise the need to learn how to forget. However, this is not as easy as implementing a technological solution. There are convenience and perception barriers to overcome for large social networks to stem the flow of the fleeting youth towards these new innovative services.
Online privacy matters to all of us, regardless of age. More importantly privacy is not just a feature, as the web matures service providers need to place privacy at the heart of their service design and not leave it as an afterthought.
Image: Rafa Garces