Recently, the concept of online privacy has attained a somewhat paradoxical vibe to it. On the one hand, the common wisdom posits it as our inalienable right that we keep losing to big corporations. On the other hand, more and more people seem to abandon it in favor of free services willingly – at least that’s the impression you might get from the headlines. Let’s try and figure out whether the digital natives really don’t care about online privacy – and whether it’s still something worth caring about at all.
Attitudes to online Privacy
As people are becoming aware of online technologies’ privacy implications, more studies emerge that attempt to evaluate the population’s views on the matter. Because the scope of the issue is quite broad, the range of these inquiries is equally diverse, covering a number of topics:
- Awareness about surveillance and tracking
- Cyber hygiene-related behavior
- Being comfortable with trading privacy for services
- Perceived level of safety
- Trust for companies
The numbers offered by these studies seem clear: Millennials and Gen Zs are clearly concerned with the implications of losing privacy online, although the older generation seems to be even more so. This outcome is confirmed in other reports and seems to be mirrored in related domains like the Internet of Things.
Some media outlets have been quick to interpret these results as a sign of the young generation not caring about privacy. However, both the data and the takeaways are more nuanced. Let’s try and figure it out.
Indifferent Or Clueless?
The first thing worth pointing out is that the difference between attitudes of younger and older generations is not that staggering, usually hovering around 60 and 70 percent, respectively. So, while it can be described as “caring slightly less about privacy,” not caring at all would probably be an overstatement. Second, the awareness about the lack of privacy seems to increase with age – in other words, it is not that Gen Zs do not value their privacy – they just may not fully realize what is on the table.
Another finding confirms this interpretation: digital natives may be under-informed on the matter, with almost 60% reporting not receiving any education on online safety and security. Again, this may be misleading – after all, formal education is certainly not the only source of information for a generation that has been brought up on technology. Still, it gives a glimpse at how deep this issue is rooted.
However, the effects of being exposed to technology work both ways. It may be that Millennials and Gen Zs don’t mind perpetual surveillance precisely because they are accustomed to it from an early age. The older generation just doesn’t see technology as a natural extension of their lives, so there’s no wonder they will be suspicious about corporations knowing so much about them. The entire concept of data as a commodity that can be exchanged for services is quite new, so there’s no wonder it requires some getting used to.
Tips for Securing Your online Privacy
Regardless of the philosophical and social underpinning of the issue, it still makes sense to protect your privacy. Below are some tips on how to avoid your data and identity being stolen:
The Behavioral Dimension
The majority of privacy slips online are not the result of ingenious hacks but rather simple human recklessness. Here are some useful habits you can develop to stay safe:
- Know what you are agreeing to: Develop a habit of reading over the terms of service before clicking “I agree.”
- Mind the Streisand effect: The things you post online are notoriously difficult to undo, so don’t get reckless with any information that is even remotely personal
- Practice Common Sense: Something that sounds too good to be true probably is, so do not rush to submit sensitive data before taking your time to understand who’s asking.
The Techy Side
The current generation of devices and digital services offers a decent level of protection for its users from malicious activities. Unfortunately, there’ still room for error, so here are some precautions for you to consider:
- Familiarize yourself with privacy-oriented features: Every web browser has an entire layer of protection for safeguarding user privacy, so take a tour – these ten minutes of your life are certainly worth it.
- Protect your Internet connection: Remember how much personal data circulates in your home network; go through your configuration and consider a VPN modem or a similar solution that offers security out-of-the-box.
- Practice good digital hygiene: Do not skip encryption, strong passwords, and do not click on those misleading “rogue antivirus” ads.
The omnipresent tracking of online activities has already redefined the idea of privacy. What was once thought to be an inalienable human right has become a commodity that can be offered in exchange for services. In this light, the Millennials and Gen Zs supposed indifference to online privacy issues seems less of a reckless choice and more of an indication of the things to come. Indeed, it doesn’t mean you can stop caring about online privacy anymore and start sharing everything with everyone. Quite on the contrary, now that every major company is after your data, you have every reason to be as cautious as ever.