Microsoft: 60% of U.S. Teens Keep Secret Online Accounts

Many teens in the U.S. are having brushes with darker side of the internet and their parents are largely unaware of what's going on in their kids' digital lives.

teen, online accounts

Microsoft today released the findings of a new study conducted on behalf of the company by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). After surveying 804 American teens, aged 13 to 17, and 810 parents of teens of those ages, Microsoft and the NCSA found that when it comes to online safety, teens and their parents aren't quite on the same page.

Sixty percent of the teens admitted that they had created an account their parents don't know about in order to use an app, social media site or other online service. Only 13 percent said their parents were "completely aware" of their online activities.

Parents, on the other hand, said they were "neutral" in terms of awareness about their kids' online activities. A mere 3 percent claimed they knew everything their children did online.

Effectively, a good number of parents are in the dark when their teens become the target of insulting and offensive conduct online. While it may not always rise to the level of persistent and sustained cyber-bullying and harassment, many teens in the United States are nonetheless encountering some hurtful behavior.

"Thirty-nine percent of teens surveyed said someone had been mean or cruel to them when they were online or using their cell phones in the 12 months ending June 2016, and more than half (52 percent) said the content of those hurtful messages was about something the teen said or did," Jacqueline Beauchere, Microsoft chief online safety officer, wrote in an Aug. 24 blog post. "Meanwhile, 45 percent said their appearance was the focus of the rude remarks, and 27 percent said they received mean messages about their sexual orientation, their gender (25 percent), or their race or ethnicity (24 percent)."

When problems arise, 28 percent said they never consulted with their parents. Only 20 percent of teens said they were "very likely" to turn to their parents for help or would take that course of action "all the time."

Again, parents are largely overestimating how much visibility they have into their children's digital lives. A majority (65 percent) believed their teens were "very likely" to share their negative online experiences or do so "all the time." Forty percent of teens turn to friends instead, despite the hope among most parents (80 percent) that their children would seek out their help.

Echoing the cyber-security concerns of many of their elders, teens are worried about their online safety and privacy.

Forty-seven percent of teens said they were "very concerned" about someone accessing their account without their permission, and 43 percent feared that their personal information would be shared online. Many teens (38 percent) worried that their private photos and videos would be leaked online.

Microsoft isn't the only influential tech company turning its attention to online abuse.

Last week, in the wake of some recent high-profile instances of women abandoning Twitter after being inundated with threatening and objectionable tweets, Twitter announced plans to extend its Quality Filter to the community at large. A feature formerly reserved for its "verified" users—generally the official accounts of government officials, entertainers and other public figures--Quality Filter employs a variety of signals to remove low-quality content, duplicate tweets and bot-created tweets from a user's Twitter experience, the company claims.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...