Look Out Facebook: Gen Y Wants Its Privacy

Last Updated May 27, 2010 6:03 PM EDT

In all the talk about Facebook and the company's relationship to customer privacy, one point repeatedly arises. Is society's expectations of privacy changing? Businesses like Facebook, Google (GOOG), and Twitter have banked on an answer of yes. However, a recent study by the Pew Research Center has some bad news. Younger adults are more careful about their online reputations -- and, as a result, more concerned about privacy -- than older generations. That bodes ill for companies that trade in the details of consumers' lives.

According to the study, more people keep profiles of themselves on social networking sites: 46 percent of online adults today, compared to 20 percent in 2006. That would seem good news for online marketing, but related trends are surprising:
  • Of Internet users between 18 and 29, 44% they take steps to limit the personal information about them online, versus a third of those 30 to 49, 25 percent of adults between 50 and 64, and only 20 percent of those who are older.
  • Of the 18 to 29 year-old group that use social networking, 71 percent have changed their privacy settings to limit the information they share, versus 55 percent of those from 50 to 64.
  • Almost half (47 percent) of the younger users have deleted unwanted comments that others have made on their profiles. Of the 30 to 49 crowd, it was 29 percent, and 26 percent of those 50 to 64.
  • About 41 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds have removed their names from photos when someone has tagged them. That compares with 24 percent of 30 to 49 and 18 percent of 50 to 64.
Younger users are less trusting of social networking sites. They're more likely to restrict what they put up about themselves and who is allowed to see it. In other words, younger users are far more conscious about privacy than older ones. Companies cannot necessarily bank on society becoming more accepting of having their information available to others, including marketers and advertisers.

Even if the percentages hold for society more broadly, it still means plenty of people are willing to share information on social networks. However, companies may have to reconsider what age groups they target, as older consumers may be secure enough in their lives and careers that they have less need to be careful about how they present themselves.

Image: RGBStock.com user TACLUDA, site standard license.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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