Parents Say Social Networks Don’t Protect Childrens’ Privacy

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Three out of four parents don’t believe that social networks are doing a good enough job of protecting the privacy of their children who use those networks, according to a new survey by Common Sense Media, a non-profit group that focuses on how media and technology affect families. The study also found that 92 percent of parents are concerned their children share too much information about themselves online. A related survey of teenagers, meanwhile, found that 79 percent felt their friends shared too much information about themselves, and 85 percent believed that search engines and social networks should have to get their permission before they used personal information about them to market products to them via advertising.

On a more positive note, 70 percent of the teenagers who took the survey said that they manage their privacy actively, by doing things such as changing the privacy settings in various online services. That latter figure matches the data found by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project in a survey earlier this year, which showed that 71 percent of younger users (18 to 29) had changed their privacy settings. Sociologist Danah Boyd noted that in her research, teenagers showed themselves to be very concerned about their online privacy and reputation, and took steps to manage it whenever possible.

In a meeting in Washington today with Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, and Deputy Secretary of Education Anthony Miller, Common Sense Media launched a campaign called “Protect Our Privacy – Protect Our Kids,” which the group said will include the distribution of consumer tips, information, and videos to millions of homes and a new privacy curriculum for teachers. The group says it is also pushing for changes to legislation to implement a “Do Not Track Kids” policy similar to the “Do Not Call” restrictions on telemarketers.

“The industry has to listen to what parents are saying, openly acknowledge the problem and accept an “opt-in” policy for kids,” James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, said in a statement. “Parents and kids have to educate themselves about how to protect their information. Schools should teach all students and their parents about privacy protection. And finally, policymakers have to update privacy policies for the 21st century.”

Here are a selection of answers from teens and adults/parents who took the survey:

Teens

  • Do you feel that your personal information is secure and private online? 44 percent said yes, 27 percent said no, 29 percent said they weren’t sure.
  • How often do you read the terms or conditions of service that appear on web sites or other online services? 45 percent said always or sometimes, and 54 percent said rarely or never.
  • Do you believe that some search engines collect and use your browsing habits to sell advertising tied to your interests? 88 percent said yes and 3 percent said no.
  • Do you believe that some social networking sites collect and use your personal information to sell advertising tied to your interests? 79 percent said yes, 8 percent said no.
  • Do you believe that social network based games, like Farmville or Mafia Wars, can use your personal information to target ads at you? 68 percent said yes, 9 percent said no.
  • Should search engines and online social networking sites be able to share your physical location with other companies before you provide specific authorization? 14 percent said yes, 81 percent said no.

Adults and Parents:

  • Of the following, which do you feel is the main reason you are concerned about children
    revealing personal information online? 71 percent of adults said sexual predators, 72 percent of parents said the same. Number two was difficulty securing a job or college placement.
  • Do you agree or disagree that your personal information is secure and private online? 66 percent of adults disagreed, 67 percent of parents
  • Are you more or less concerned about your online privacy than you were five years ago? 36 percent of adults said much more, compared with 33 percent of parents. 47 percent of adults said somewhat and 53 percent of parents said the same.
  • Do you believe that some search engines collect and use your browsing habits to sell advertising tied to your interests? 95 percent of both groups said yes.
  • Do you believe that some social networking sites collect and use your personal information to sell advertising tied to your interests? 94 percent of adults and 95 percent of parents said yes.
  • Some social networks and search engines that offer online services for free say they can only do so by selling advertising tailored to user habits and interests. Do you believe this is true? 42 percent of both groups said yes and an equal number said no.
  • Would you prefer to pay for services currently provided for free on search engines and social networking sites in lieu of having information about you sold to advertisers? 24 percent of both groups said yes and 45 percent of adults and 51 percent of parents said no.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Alan Cleaver

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