Millennials and Online Privacy – A Balance Between Personalization and Value

Submitted by on Wed, 06/01/16

online-privacy

It’s often said that because they grew up using the Internet, social media and smartphones, Millennials don’t care a lick about online privacy.

There’s a wealth of articles debating the topic.

But the reality is that Millennials’ feelings on the matter are somewhat less clear-cut.

At least a few recent studies have challenged the notion that this generation is totally carefree about privacy issues.

And a recent panel discussion at the 2016 Kurogo Higher Ed Mobile Conference, featuring four student panelists who are Millennials themselves, further served to clarify the generation’s thought process regarding privacy and personalization of the online experience.

In the words of one Kurogo Conference panelist, Katie Lightcap, a biology major, from Pacific University, there’s “a fine line” when it comes to how much information Millennials are willing to share, in exchange for an optimized experience with an app or social media site.

The Fine Line – Privacy Versus Personalization
Comfort with technology, the ability to customize an experience and the desire to receive even more enhanced services are some of the primary factors driving the behavior of Millennials when it comes to social media, apps and information sharing.

At least those are the triggers that were highlighted by the four Millennials who took part in the panel discussion at the Kurogo Conference.

Each of the students offered frank insight regarding their habits and behaviors online.

Diana Dayal, a senior from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, made an interesting point at the start of the panel discussion that perhaps has been lost in all of the studies about Millennials and privacy.

“One thing I think is important to note, is for our generation, we are really comfortable with technology, so we know how to turn it off and how to have access and how to not have access,” said Dayal.

What Dayal seemed to be saying, is that because Millennials feel so completely comfortable or in control of technology, they feel similarly in control, at least to some degree, of their privacy and personal information.

At the same time, California State University, Northridge student Kyle Shaver described the generation’s views regarding the release of personal information in exchange for customization as a value assessment.

“We are more than willing to give up a lot of personal information, mainly depending on what we get back,” he explained. “If giving you access to my email account, means that you will scan my emails and see if any of my Amazon purchases have decreased in price and get me a refund…we’re more than willing to do that, because we get a pretty big benefit out of that.”

Shaver said the key for Millennials is being in control of the information they provide, and equally important, they want the ability to opt in or opt out of such exchanges.

Perhaps existing on an even further end of the information-sharing spectrum, Kevin Moore, another California State University, Northridge student, said he is happy to provide personal details if it means truly customized content.

“I am more than willing to give out a lot of information so that I get way stronger services,” Moore noted.

But both Moore and Shaver also indicated that they’re familiar with other Millennials who are extremely concerned about privacy, individuals who will go so far as to do all online work in privacy mode.

“So you do have a strong split of privacy concerns,” Moore said. “A lot of our generation is concerned about the government spying on us…It’s kind of odd to see such a strong split between those who say ‘yes I’m gonna give you all of my information’ to ‘no, definitely not, you can’t look at anything I have.’ It’s difficult to figure out where that line is for our generation.”

Privacy Dissected
There are many studies that appear to support the sentiments expressed by the Millennials at the Kurogo Conference.

The general theme of such studies seems to be that because they’ve grown up with the personalization of content, Millennials, and even younger audiences for that matter, are more comfortable with a blended world where there’s not quite as much privacy protection.

In fact, some experts say Millennials view the customized content that results from providing access to their personal information as a value.

A 2015 study conducted by Gallup posits that because Millennials have never known a world without smartphones, apps, the Internet or computers (and the associated risks to privacy that come with all those things) they have lower expectations about the security of their personal information.

Yet that doesn’t seem to be the full story.

An October 2015 article in DarkReading.com, a leading cybersecurity journal, presents research that conflicts with prevailing stereotypes, showing that Millennials do actually care about security and privacy.

The research discussed in the article was commissioned by identity management firm Intercede and conducted by Atomik Research. It involved surveying approximately 2,000 16- to 35-year-olds in the United States and United Kingdom.

According to the article, the Atomik Research study revealed the following:

  • 80% of respondents said it was vital or very important that personally identifiable financial and medical data be shared only with those whom they have authorized access.
  • 74% responded the same about location data
  • 58% said the same for social media content
  • 40% of respondents would hand over location data in exchange for targeted goods or services
  • 40% would give a summary of their shopping habits in exchange for free products and services

Another 2015 study, this one from the American Press Institute, found that while Millennials are not overly concerned with privacy issues, there are a few areas that they do express some hesitation about – including identity theft and people they don’t know very well learning too much about their personal lives.

Amid such a varied landscape with regard to privacy, the popularity of apps such as Snapchat and Yik Yak are skyrocketing among Millennials.

Snapchat, which allows users to send photo messages that delete shortly after being viewed, is rapidly becoming a Millennial darling – rising to number three in usage last year, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. According to The 2015 U.S. Mobile App Report, almost all of Snapchat’s adult audience (98%) are between 18-34 years of age.

Meanwhile, Yik Yak, an anonymous social media app, topped a 2015 list of apps that have the highest concentration of usage among Millennials.

Given all of these factors, perhaps it’s important realize that Millennials views on the subject of privacy, social media and app usage are more complex and nuanced then we all had imagined.

The Big Takeaway
So what’s the takeaway? If there is one overarching message here, it seems to be that fine line mentioned by Millennial Katie Lightcap.

Just like the rest of us, Millennials have varying opinions and approaches to privacy and technology. But unlike the rest of us, they have grown up using technology in all of its forms, and thus feel more comfortable and in control of their destiny online.

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