Most Young People Do Care About Privacy, Reputation, Pew Says

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-05-26

People, especially young ones, are quite conscientious about tending to their reputation on the Web, according to a Pew Research Center report.

Some 71 percent of social networking users aged 18 to 29 have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online. That compares to just 55 percent of social site users ages 50 to 64 who have changed their privacy settings.

Moreover, 44 percent of young adult Web users limit the amount of personal info available about themselves online.

The older the user is, the less likely he is to limit personal info online. Only 33 percent Web users ages 30 to 49 and 25 percent of users ages 50 to 64 limit their info. Just 20 percent of users 65 and older limit info.

The numbers come at a time when users have generated massive amounts of information online by using search engines and social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

This includes data created from the use of Web applications, including games and communications and collaborations software.

Nearly 500 million people flock to share links, photos and videos and play games such as "Zynga's Farmville" or "Mafia Wars" on Facebook, for example.

Pew research analyst Mary Madden said many young users are refining their approach to information-sharing on the fly.

These users are frequently changing privacy settings on profiles, customizing who can see certain updates and deleting unwanted information about themselves.

"Contrary to the popular perception that younger users embrace a laissez-faire attitude about their online reputations, young adults are often more vigilant than older adults when it comes to managing their online identities," Madden wrote in her May 26 report.

Pew researchers surveyed by phone 2,253 adults in August and September of 2009. Some 57 percent of Internet users said they have used Google, Bing, Yahoo or some other search engine to look up their name and see what information was available about them online. That number is up from 47 percent of people from 2006.

Conversely, 38 percent of Internet users have searched online for information about their friends, a boost from the 2006 figure of 26 percent. 

This led Pew to conclude that reputation management has now become a "defining feature" for many Web users. Others, however, don't seem to care and subscribe to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's view that the world wants to be open and share information online.

Madden's reputation management findings take on an interesting dimension in light of the fact that Facebook just changed its privacy settings again, making them easier for users to manage.

Facebook users may select to share information with friends, friends of friends or everyone and customize their settings from one page with a single click.  

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