Young Canadians lack understanding of online privacy: study

Researchers warn of major security flaws in systems used by cellphone carriers around the world. NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP / Getty Images

TORONTO – Canada’s youth are making better judgment calls when it comes to protecting their online identities, but lack understanding in key areas of online privacy, a new study reveals.

“While students have developed a number of strategies to help them manage their online reputations and stay safe, the research also shows that there are gaps in young people’s knowledge of online privacy,” said Cathy Wing, co-executive director of MediaSmarts, the non-profit charitable organization focusing on digital and media literacy that did the study.

“Their limited understanding of geo-location services, privacy policies, data collection practices and password sharing issues, suggests we need more effective privacy education, both in homes and schools.”

READ MORE: Canada’s youth are highly connected, girls face different rules online: study

The study, titled Young Canadians in a Wired World, found that 68 per cent of students wrongly believed that if a website had a privacy policy it would not share their personal information with others.

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Similarly, though 66 per cent of students said they have been taught about how companies collect and use personal data, 39 per cent believe companies are not interested in what they do online.

While 82 per cent of young web users reported learning about privacy settings, 65 per cent of those users had never had a privacy policy or terms of use agreement explained to them.

The biggest problem is that the majority of the conversation about young people’s Internet usage revolves around staying safe online – not issues surrounding privacy and data collection, Wing told Global News.

“Safety tends to dominate the discussion of young people’s use of the Internet,” she said.

“It’s important that they understand all the aspects of the Internet – be it that safety is important, but so is the marketing that happens online.”

Wing believes that parents should be engaging in conversations with their kids to explain how websites like Facebook take user data for marketing purposes – a practice that helps keep social media sites free to use.

READ MORE: Canadian youth have fewer rules, less supervision online: study

But Wing also believes that young people are becoming increasingly interested in issues surrounding online privacy – especially as news stories such as the NSA Internet spying scandal continue to surface.

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“Young people are getting a lot of their information online – almost 50 per cent… to get current events online – and that’s really encouraging,” she added.

Interestingly, the study found that 28 per cent of students think police agencies should be able to see their social networking posts and one fifth of students agree that the government should be able to monitor social media sites.

For kids, image is everything

But Canadian youth are taking steps to ensure that basic social media privacy settings are up to date.

According to the study, more than 90 per cent of students believe that strangers should not be able to access their profiles. Older students were also found to be more stringent when it comes to what content their friends and family can see on their social profiles – 31 per cent admitted to blocking friends from certain content.

READ MORE: Teens becoming increasingly aware of online privacy encouraging, says expert

Ninety-seven per cent of young users said they would take steps to get rid of a photo posted online that they didn’t want others to see. Similarly, 89 per cent think it’s wrong for a friend to post an embarrassing or “bad” picture of someone without asking first.

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For a lot of Canadian students these habits start at a young age.

Thirty-two per cent of students in Grades 4 to 6 have a Facebook account and 16 per cent have a Twitter account – many of which post to the sites at least once a week.

Ninety-five per cent of Grade 11 students have a Facebook account, according to the report.

Other interesting findings from the report include:

  • Forty-eight per cent of students have pretended to be older to register for a site they were too young to join – the percentage of students who did this rises from one fifth of students in Grade 4, to 65 per cent of students in Grade 11.
  • Almost half of students admitted to using an online alias to protect their privacy online.
  • Older students are more likely to delete content about themselves: 77 per cent of Grade 11 students admitted to deleting embarrassing content on social media.
  • Forty-four per cent of students who delete content are concerned that their parents might see it, compared to 37 per cent said they would be most concerned about their friends seeing it.
  • Girls are more likely to delete embarrassing content than boys.

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