In findings that contradict Facebook and the NSA, teenagers are more aware of privacy than ever. But privacy isn’t about “keeping everything to yourself”. It’s much more nuanced than that.
Think back to when you were a teenager, when you were forming your identity. You had the identity that your parents had taught you, but you also had the identity you were forming with your friends. Those were separate. They needed to be kept separate.
Teenagers is an excellent case study in privacy because teenagers have always had a need to hide things from their parents during their formative years. As such, they have an innate and instinctive understanding of what privacy is:
Privacy is having control of who gets to see what.
It isn’t, and was never, just limited to being able to keep secrets to yourself. It’s about the ability to share secrets with the people you choose to trust – with the people that you choose to trust (which, presumably, has never included the NSA and their ilk).
Cory Doctorow mentions an interesting study that finds that teenagers today are actually far more, not less, aware of privacy than regular grown-ups who use Facebook. This contradicts the entire narrative of the surveillance hawks.
It turns out that a common teenager behavior isn’t just to close the browser with Facebook when we go do something else. They actually disable their entire profile – “resign” from Facebook, making their profile, photos, and everything else completely inaccessible for friends, family, and everybody else while they’re not themselves at the computer.
When you resign from Facebook, you have six weeks to change your mind before your profile is completely deleted. Thus, the next time they log in to Facebook, they un-resign and connect for a while. This is a remarkable level of effort to maintain privacy.
Doctorow notes that while this behavior probably overvalues the need for privacy toward parents and teachers, and undervalues the need for privacy toward governments and future employers, it’s clear without a doubt that the reflexes and instincts of privacy are there.
This brings enormous hope. The teenagers growing up today aren’t careless with their privacy at all. To the contrary – they are far, far more privacy-aware than their older peers. And they know that privacy is more than just about keeping things to yourself; it’s about determining who gets to see what.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.