Online Privacy Concerns for Generation Z

Generation Z (or Gen Z), people born between the years 1995-2012, are digital natives, meaning they’ve been raised with computers, have always had the internet, and grew up with phones in their hands. As our lives have become more digital, this generation of youth has had to deal with privacy issues long before they were ready. Now, due to the pandemic, many of these young people are online more than ever.

When we think about online privacy for our youth, we tend to think of online predators, cyberbullying, and other harmful elements. However, there are also more subtle issues that are detrimental to our youth’s privacy, such as oversharing on social media, online tracking, information mishandling, and location tracking. Parents should be aware of these privacy concerns and keep their children informed so that they can make wise decisions about their digital footprint.

Oversharing on Social Media

Social media, which became popular in the 2000s, has offered us a way of sharing content with people all over the world. The problem is that social media also reveals much of your identity with people who may not have the best of intentions. Individually, each post might not give much away, but it accumulates to provide a very comprehensive picture of your teen’s identity. Small details – their school, the way they look, the cities they have lived, their birthday pictures, who their friends are, what scares them – all add up. Identity theft is rampant online and it would only take a few random bits of information for a thief to be able to impersonate your child. They could potentially open bank accounts, take out loans, or commit crimes in your child’s name, and because they are young, you probably wouldn’t discover the problem for years.

Generation Z faces the extra burden that, as social media was new but growing in popularity, their parents felt perfectly comfortable sharing all sorts of information about them. Many Gen Z people had a digital identity created for them by their parents before they were old enough to even know what social media was. In addition, some of the things that parents posted is embarrassing to their children now. It’s important that parents do two things for their children: 1) ask permission before posting something about your children, and 2) explain the perils of oversharing information with youth. Teens need to know that the information they share can be accessed by college admissions officers, future employers, future in-laws, and criminals.

Online Tracking

When you are online, you are spied by a number of “trackers” for various purposes. Trackers keep a record of your search history and all your online activities through various means. Businesses use trackers to get an understanding of who you are and your interests. Most of the time, this tracking is for advertisement purposes which allows companies to show ads according to your taste. But sometimes this information is used inappropriately or even stolen by criminal hackers. We don’t know a lot about where our information is stored or who it’s being given to, so users need to be cautious.

New research published in September 2020 in JAMA Pediatrics shows that 67% of the apps played by 3- to 4-year-old children collected digital identifiers and shared them with ‘third party’ marketing companies. That is just for preschool children; the tracking on apps for teens and adults is higher. The problem is that the digital information collected can be used by businesses to identify personality traits or behavioral weaknesses that leave people open to risk for manipulation or exploitation. Teens should be aware of tracking so that they can determine how they want to use the Internet.

Information Mishandling

There are various sites on the internet that need your personal information to get access to their services. These sites often store cookies and save your personal information and later use it for various purposes. Sometimes this information is not encrypted which makes it accessible to anyone with a decent knowledge of computers. In addition, many companies become subject to cyber attacks or hackers. In 2019, a hacker posted tens of thousands of credit card numbers stolen from CD Universe, offering to share more information for only $1 apiece.

Location Tracking

Organizations are using our smartphones to gather information on our location. For instance, social media apps encourage you to tag your location in posts. You are providing first-hand information to the world about where exactly you are and what your next move is, which is certainly risky.

Businesses have used your location information to better target you. They can determine when you have visited their competitors, when you are most likely to make purchases, how often your visit their stores, and how they can sway your habits in order to sell you stuff.

Law enforcement uses our smartphone information to track and catch suspects, monitor movements of protestors, and determine who has visited suspicious locations.

In a December 2019 article, the Washington Post reported that universities are turning students’ phones into surveillance machines. Short-range phone sensors and campuswide WiFi networks are empowering colleges across the United States to track hundreds of thousands of students more precisely than ever before. Dozens of schools now use such technology to monitor students’ attendance and academic performance, analyze their conduct, or assess their mental health. School and company officials call location monitoring a powerful booster for student success: If they know more about where students are going, they argue, they can intervene before problems arise. But some educators say this move toward heightened educational vigilance threatens to undermine students’ independence and prevents them from pursuing interests beyond the classroom because they feel they might be watched. It also raises concerns about how colleges might use this data in the future.

Ways to Stay Safe

Online privacy experts suggest taking the following steps to improve the protection of your privacy:

  • Keep your browser and system updated to the latest versions so that you don’t miss out on any of the latest security fixes and features.
  • Avoid using spammy websites that ask for user details.
  • Use a strong anti-virus program will keep your device free from all types of malware, such as spyware and viruses.
  • Adjust your settings on social media. Big Internet companies such as Facebook and Google give you options to make your account private and/or opt out of some, if not all, of their personalization and tracking.
  • Don’t overshare details online and never tag your current location.
  • Regularly check your credit report, and the credit reports of your children, to catch identity theft.

Final Thoughts…

Gen Z faces a wave of privacy issues concerning their digital footprint. Talk to your teen about this issues so that they can make informed decisions about what they want to share or keep private.

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