Who knew? Privacy is a concern for teenagers, Pew study shows

The current generation of teenagers seems willing to share anything on social media, but cares more about privacy than you think, according to a recent Pew study.

One in four teenagers have uninstalled a mobile app because they found out it was collecting personal information they didn’t want to share, said a report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project
Here’s how teens react to mobile apps that collect personal information, according to a Pew Survey. (Click to enlarge.)

Half of teenagers have avoided an app altogether on their cell phone or tablet due to concerns about personal information they would have to share in order to use it, the report also said.

The report did not call out specific app makers like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or Tumblr. But privacy is today one of the crucial issues faced by those companies, as consumers question the level of information sites are able to gather about them.

Pew’s survey was based on telephone interviews with 802 U.S. teenagers aged 12 to 17 and their parents. The survey did not focus exclusively on social apps, though participants said in focus group discussions that they primarily downloaded social media and game apps to their phones and tablets, in addition to music, news and weather apps.

Some teenagers took issue with specific app features. Nearly 50 percent said they had turned off location tracking on their cell phone or in an app because they were worried about other people or companies accessing that information, the report said.

Some didn’t even understand why the app would need that information, and so they opted out. “An app wanted to use location services for some reason,” one survey participant said in a focus group discussion, “but I didn’t see the reason why.”

In many cases, focus group participants said they did not allow an app to access their location unless they thought it was necessary, the report said.

Girls are more likely than boys to say they have turned off location tracking, the survey found. Among app downloaders, 59 percent of teenage girls reported having disabled location tracking, compared with just 37 percent of boys, the report said.

While they are concerned about companies’ use of their information, some teenagers may be just as concerned about their parents’ access, report authors suggested. In 2009, Pew found that about half of parents of teenage cell phone users used the phone to monitor their child’s location in some way.

The survey’s findings come as Internet companies like Facebook and Twitter continue to enhance their sites in an effort to keep users engaged, including teenagers.

The professional networking site LinkedIn now wants to attract younger users, with its introduction this week of university pages aimed at students.

In June the ephemeral photo messaging service Snapchat—already very popular among teenagers—launched SnapKidz for users even younger than 13.

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