Think Young People Don’t Care About Privacy? Think Again.

Savannah Peterson
Jan 21 · 3 min read

The privacy debate is hot right now. Between Facebook’s congressional appearance, GDPR, and the recently passed CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) beginning on January 1, 2020, data, namely the security thereof, has dotted the headlines. Many claim young people don’t care about privacy, even arguing that a public life is the new social norm. This “young” group is now two generations- the notorious millennials and the rising Generation Z (those born after 1997.) It’s impossible to dispute the increase in shared information, but it would be unwise to assume those under 30 are freely willing to productize their online data.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg foreshadowed the current conversation back in 2010 when the company started making user data more public. He cited Facebook’s agile “beginners mind,” as he stated confidently that, “we decided that these (more public style settings) would be the social norms now and we just went for it.” If he was right, does that mean the current privacy debate actually the sign of a rising social norm? Is confidentiality a necessary sacrifice for constant connection?

Data over the last decade, from UC Berkeley in 2010 and PwC this year, confirm that everyone wants more security, regardless of age. Young people, like their Boomer and Gen X parents, are keen to the commodification of their data and not convinced it’s a good thing. Blake Guildry, 24, a filmmaker for Aftermarq in Columbus, Ohio expresses his concern, “I think our secure data floating around with so many different companies gives it a bigger chance at being stolen.”

People want to know who has what on them. It’s human nature. Like gossip in the locker room or on the playground as kids, companies barter our behavior for consumer gains.

Daniel Barber, CEO & Co-founder of DataGrail, a data privacy management platform, agrees. He added, “In the age of privacy, individuals have the right to understand how their data is being used, delete it if they desire, and choose the communications they’d like to receive.” Brennie Pellegrini, a 20 year old student and Generation Z entrepreneur in Boulder, Colorado says “Social media services know their most valuable asset is user data and it’s only now that they are starting to capitalize on it. I feel like my data is more susceptible to being sold now more than ever.” Pellegrini’s sentiments are shared by his peers. Nick Singley, also 20 and from Los Angeles, asked, “Is it morally sound to sell the consumer’s information and, therefore, a piece of their life? I think not.”

In exchange for security, transparency and control over their data, some are willing to accept the targeted ads that they are served in exchange. Companies that ensure trust will be rewarded with brand loyalty. The negative impact of data sharing is nullified if younger consumers are targeted efficiently, according to Guidry, “Don’t allow someone to steal my ID, but you can run ads and market to me all day long if it helps me live a better life and find things I need faster.”

Marco Vienna, 23 year old founder in Boulder affirms. “Companies utilize our data to enhance our lives, however, having that data in the hands of other people (hackers) is inevitable. It’s a trade off that people should be able to opt-in and opt-out of.”

It boils down to how and when companies use the data they gather on individuals. Singley made it clear it’s about data ownership, “I want to own my own data and information. The stress should be on individual companies to make sure that the information given to them is kept secure.” Furthering this point, Pellegrini thinks his generation may turn to more private messaging options. “Encrypted messaging services are on the rise and more people will start to switch to them if services like Facebook and Google can’t reassure their user base again.”

Vienna concludes, “Ultimately, the companies that invest the most in cybersecurity, and in the most prudent ways, will have the most credibility in the long-run.

Savannah Peterson

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Trying to make the future less scary. Founder of Savvy Millennial, Forbes 30 Under 30, Speaker, Community Mgr, Dog Mom: