Today’s College Students Care About Privacy — Despite Some of Their...

Data Privacy

Today’s College Students Care About Privacy — Despite Some of Their Online Actions

By Rebecca Koenig     Nov 2, 2021

Today’s College Students Care About Privacy — Despite Some of Their Online Actions

Today’s college students grew up steeped in social media and the internet, leading some observers to assume that they’re unconcerned about all the data they generate online. But it turns out that young people today care a lot about their data privacy, even though they sometimes act in ways that jeopardize that privacy.

That’s according to a new report from the nonprofit Future of Privacy Forum, which analyzed recent research about young adults from the U.S., China, Germany and Japan.

Many people in their late teens and early 20s say they try to be careful about the information they share online. One reason why is that they don’t want to leave a bad impression that could hurt their college admissions or job prospects, according to the report. As one study participant put it, she tries to make sure that when people look at her online profiles, “they’re not going to see anything that’s going to ruin my life.”

College students are also concerned about their peers sharing information about them online in ways that they can’t control. For example, a study from Indiana University detailed the fears college students have about and the ways they adapt to the fact that they may be photographed at any moment by friends, classmates or even strangers. Worried about their images being taken and shared out of context or used to generate a viral “meme,” students describe making extra effort to improve their appearances, censoring their behavior at parties, and negotiating with their peers to avoid taking or sharing pictures.

Another worry described in the Future of Privacy Forum report is about a type of digital harassment known as “doxxing,” which occurs when someone posts sensitive information online about someone else with the intent of stirring up trouble.

When it comes to how third parties collect and share individuals’ data, young people have different attitudes depending on the organization, the Future of Privacy Forum report says. Young adults tend to have more trust in and favorable views of governments than in private companies when it comes to how their data may be used.

Regarding higher education institutions, many college students approve of their colleges collecting and using personal information for “educational purposes,” but they don’t necessarily believe that should extend to include their social media behavior or where they go and what they do on campus. Some students worry that the data higher ed collects about them may not be accurate or could be used against their best interests. Many students are loath to share biometric information with colleges and are wary about tools like facial recognition software.

To support young adults in their desire to safeguard their privacy, the report makes three recommendations:

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