Millennials Like Their Privacy, but Give It Away Freely

More than half of smartphone owners under 35 years old believe they are privacy-savvy, yet they tend to take the most risks with their personal data.

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The younger generation—Millennials, or those aged 18 to 35—consider themselves the most privacy-aware users of mobile devices, but in reality, they take the most risks, according to a survey of smartphones users by mobile-security firm Lookout.

While major media stories, such as the revelations that the National Security Agency collects data on millions of people, have raised awareness of privacy, people still use their mobile devices in risky ways, according to Lookout's Mobile Privacy IQ report, published on March 24. Lookout surveyed 1,012 mobile users in late January and early February and found that 41 percent thought they firmly grasped the privacy implications of mobile devices. Yet more than a third of those privacy-savvy users connect to public WiFi, fail to set a passcode to lock their smartphones and download apps from unofficial marketplaces.

Among younger users—so-called Millennials—the majority classified themselves as knowledgeable about privacy concerns, but they engaged in risky behavior more often, the report said.

"While privacy-related headlines are forcing privacy to be top-of-mind for people everywhere, a disconnect exists between people's understanding of what it means to be privacy-conscious on mobile and the actions they're taking in the real world," Cherie Gatson, mobile security expert at Lookout, told eWEEK in an email.

The report underscored the complexities of protecting personal information on mobile devices when a variety of groups—from cyber-criminals to legitimate companies—aim to collect data on mobile users.

In the Lookout study, half of those polled considered themselves to have an average "mobile privacy IQ," a term defined by Lookout as a measure of a person's privacy knowledge. While 41 percent claimed an above-average or well-above-average mobile privacy IQ, the proportion was higher—51 percent — among Millennials.

Yet Millennials also engaged in behavior that undermined their mobile privacy and security more often than older people. About 21 percent of Millennials had no problems connecting to public WiFi, compared with 11 percent of those aged 35 to 54, and 4 percent of those 55 years old and older. In addition, 18 percent of Millennials had no issues downloading mobile applications without vetting the permissions, compared with only 8 percent and 2 percent, respectively, of people in the two older categories.

Overall, people appear not to trust the companies developing mobile applications. About 44 percent of those surveyed expressed concern that mobile applications were mishandling their data. Certain categories of mobile applications caused the most concern, including financial, social media and shopping apps.

The survey revealed the dangers of consumer devices for companies whose employees regularly bring their own devices into the workplace. Nearly 60 percent of users rated their work data as the least important data on their phone. In addition, the collection of other risky behaviors could mean that employees are putting their companies' systems at risk, Gatson said.

"Even more concerning is that once these devices leave the network perimeter, employees are engaging in behavior that could potentially put corporate data at risk," she said. "In the borderless world we live in today, the consumer and enterprise have collided."

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...