In Focus: Young People and Privacy 2011

This is the fourth time that Kairos Future has surveyed the attitudes of young people towards privacy in general and privacy on the Internet in particular, on behalf of the Swedish Data Inspection Board.

The last time we surveyed young people's attitude to privacy, at the start of 2009, the results showed a clear trend among young people to take a more negative view of monitoring in general. One likely reason for this was the public debate in 2008 on communications monitoring (FRA) legislation and the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED).

This year's survey shows no clear signs that young people are taking a more critical view of various forms of monitoring in general. On the contrary, changes in attitudes to monitoring since the first survey in 2007 are generally small.

Some important trends affect young people's attitudes to privacy. More and more young people have access to a personal computer. This means that parents have less insight into the lives of their children online. Similarly, young people are taking more individual responsibility on matters concerning which information they share. Behaviour that is risky from the privacy perspective, such as posting videos of themselves online, is becoming more common. Checking up on acquaintances is also becoming more common and is increasingly acceptable. At the same time a growing proportion of young people are thinking about privacy issues.

More and more social networks are appearing online and are increasingly used by young people. The most widely used is Facebook, which most young people use. The controversial Flashback forum attracts one in five young people.

The information that young people regard as most private is details of who they are in love with, their personal finances and where they live. Their political opinions and religious beliefs are seen as considerably less sensitive. Least sensitive of all is information about which school they go to and the town/country they come from. The police enjoy a higher level of trust among young people than both schools and "adults in general", and this trust is growing.

The most acceptable form of monitoring is CCTV, which young people tolerate to a greater degree than telephone tapping and Internet monitoring. Young people seem to have a pragmatic approach to monitoring. Most believe that monitoring is OK if it works as a method for preventing serious crime and if it is general rather than directed at individuals.

Negative experiences online have become slightly more common since last year's survey and have returned to the same level as 2007. The most frequent negative experience is still unkind words written by others online. Twenty-three per cent report that someone has sexually harassed them online. Half of Facebook users have been subjected to what is known as "face rape" – when someone hijacks your Facebook account and makes entries using your Facebook name.

As in the previous surveys, young people have a relatively good understanding of privacy issues online, but are less aware of privacy issues in other areas. The most obvious long-term difference between different groups of young people within the age group is that girls are more tolerant to various forms of monitoring than boys.

The survey is based on an online questionnaire and was answered by a sample of 522 young people aged 15 to 18 years. The sample has the same distribution as the general population in terms of gender, region and age. The results from this year's study were compared with the same age group from previous surveys.

Read the full report: Young People and Privacy 2011