Most Millennials Expect Loss, Theft of Personal Data, Survey Shows

A survey of millennials in the U.S. and U.K. shows they strongly doubt that online services will adequately protect their data, but also it reveals this generation has its own poor security habits.

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A slim minority—only 5 percent—of men and women aged 16- to 35-years-old believe that current safeguards will protect their data from exposure, according to a survey by security firm Intercede that polled the opinions of 1,000 U.S. and 1,000 U.K. millennials. Millennials are roughly defined as people born starting in the 1980s.

About 70 percent of respondents agree that the risk to their online privacy will increase as society becomes more digitally connected, and 54 percent expect the resulting data breaches to undermine trust in businesses, Richard Parris, CEO of Intercede, told eWEEK.

"We need to think more about how do you prevent the misuse of data and give transparency to the consumer about the degree to which their information is being shared," Parris said.

The survey follows a bad summer of data breaches. In June, the Office of Personnel Management, which stores information on the background checks of every U.S. federal employee and contractor, announced that the agency's systems had been breached.

In July, Ashley Madison, billed as a dating service for married people who want to cheat on their spouses, acknowledged that hackers had stolen information on nearly 37 million users. In August, the hackers behind the breach released two massive data files containing information on millions of users as well as business data from Ashley Madison.

The company will not likely survive the breaches, and at least two class action lawsuits, according to Intercede's Parris.

"The Ashley Madison breach shows that privacy is not just loss of value, but it directly impacts how people approach and lead their lives in a way that has not been obvious in the past," Parris said.

Despite the concerns of millennials, they appear unlikely to use security technology if it complicates their lives. The average survey respondent used 20 password-protected sites, but 45 percent of the respondents are unlikely to ever change their passwords unless it is required.

Yet, that is reality, said Parris. Rather than blame consumers for their lax security habits, companies need to step up and secure the data.

"It is easy to blame consumers for being careless with their security, sharing their passwords, but I think it is on the tech industry to provide the infrastructure for building trust," he said.

Businesses have gained an additional incentive to improve data security or face federal regulatory action. On Aug. 24, a U.S. appeals court upheld the right of the Federal Trade Commission to sue companies that lose consumer information in a security breach.

The defendant in the case, hospitality company Wyndham Worldwide, had failed to adopt reasonable security practices, according to the FTC complaint.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of the article misspelled Richard Parris' name.

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...