Nowadays, much is to do about privacy on social media. Often children, adolescents and young adults (so-called ‘digital natives’) are described as ‘young and reckless’ with regard to the diffusion of their personal data on Facebook and other social networking sites. But is that rightly so?
In order to get insights in the way online privacy is dealt with during the lifespan, we did a study among 508 Dutch-speaking Facebook users from Belgium and The Netherlands. We were particularly interested in privacy concern regarding the online difussion of their personal information, and how this translates in privacy setting use for two distinct phases during adulthood; emerging adulthood (focus on studies; 18 to 25 year-olds) and middle adulthood (focus on career; 40 to 65 year-olds).
We see that 18 to 25 year olds are less concerned about their privacy and have a pragmatic approach to online self-disclosure and how they control their online privacy than older adults. 40 to 65 year olds, despite their higher privacy concern, are less knowledgeable of privacy settings on Facebook, and use privacy tools and settings less frequent than younger adults. Adults in their late teens and early twenties have higher knowledge of privacy settings and use these settings more frequently.
Because of the discrepancy between privacy concern and privacy protection for 40 – 65 year olds group, this group tends to be vulnerable in the online environment, their personal data could be disclosed to audiences that they did not consciously choose.
This discrepancy will possibly dissolve in the future. The higher knowledge of privacy tools will most likely spread throughout the population as the young adults grow older. However, it is clear that, at least at this moment in time, a serious lack of knowledge on privacy protection is apparent among older adults.
The original article also studied a third age group, young adulthood (focus on partenhood, 25-40 years old). This group was omitted from this article for reasons of clarity. On average, the 25-40 year olds scored in between the younger and older age group for the discussed measures.