Teens Are Protecting Themselves Online

Turns out it isn’t just parents, politicians, and lawyers worrying
about teen safety online. The majority of teens themselves actively
manage their online profiles to keep the information they believe is
most sensitive away from the unwanted gaze of strangers, parents and
other adults.

According to a report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project,
55 percent of online teens have social network profiles and restrict
access to them in some way.

Of those with profiles, 66 percent say their
profile is not visible to all Internet users. While many teens publicly post their first name and photos, they rarely publicly post information they believe strangers could use to locate them. Most teens leave off their full name, home phone number or cell phone number, for example.

Why? Perhaps because they are more Web-savvy and aware of of threats to their safety, according to the survey. Sixty-three percent of teens with
profiles said they believe that a “motivated” person could eventually identify
them from the information they publicly provide on their profiles.

Teens realize that in some ways they are more accessible when they
are online, according to Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet Project who co-authored the report.

“They try to strike a balance between being safe from strangers and
keeping things private from their parents and other adults, while at
the same time sharing enough information that allows them to
socialize with friends and perhaps even make new friends.”

Even before Pew’s report, evidence suggested social network users
were more vigilant that public worriers supposed. Facebook users — not
their parents — were the first with protests over a
Facebook redesign last fall, which they felt left their information
too exposed. More than 580,000 members joined one particular protest group
on the day of the changes. Facebook soon responded with new privacy
preferences.

Public concern over the safety of teens who use social networks such
as MySpace and Facebook is widespread. In September 2006, the
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined the social networking site
Xanga.com $1 million over alleged violations of the Children’s Online
Privacy Act (COPPA). The FTC said Xanga and its principals, Marc
Ginsburg and John Hiller, collected, used and disclosed personal
information from children under the age of 13 without first notifying
parents and obtaining their consent.

In March, lawyers for a Texas minor who alleged she was sexually
assaulted by a 19-year-old she met on MySpace.com filed new appeals in their case against the social network. Their first suit had been dismissed by a Judge who held the minor’s parents responsible.

Report co-author and senior research specialist Mary Madden said
parental fears over teen activities online are nothing new.

“In our first study of teen Internet usage in 2000, well before
social networking sites emerged, many parents were worried that
strangers would contact their children online through email and chat
rooms,” Maddon said in a statement.

“At the time, parents responded to these worries by taking
precautions such as monitoring their child’s Internet use and placing
the computer in a public area of the home – much as they do today.”

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