Are Millennials Resigned to Lack of Online Privacy?

There has been a lot of debate lately on the issue of online privacy, and with good reason. The debate is a healthy one, and very enlightening (I have revised my Facebook privacy settings and was shocked to see how open it was).

Just as this beach sign doesn’t really do the job, do we really mean it when we say ‘keep out’? Is insisting on privacy just a formality? Or is privacy something we’re willing to trade off for other benefits — provided the price doesn’t become too high?

I have been listening to what Internet savvy Gen Y marketers and bloggers think about the issue. It’s been a little surprising to hear many say they consider some sacrifice of privacy as the price to pay for free online services and more targeted communications.

Although many express misgivings about just how safe it really is to trade transparency for free services and relevant communications, I also sense a bit of  resignation – what choice do we really have? They also seem to believe that the burden is on them to put up the fences, not the marketers.  If this attitude is representative of other Millennials, we may see a more relaxed attitude toward social privacy before long.

Here’s a sampling:

McKenzie Lawton: ( Personally, I feel as though I’m pretty comfortable putting a lot of things on the Internet. I use Facebook everyday, post pictures, comments and share personal information. My Twitter is public, and I even have a copy of my resume on my website. However, I make it a point not to include my address or phone number. I really don’t mind having my contact information on the Internet, as long as it’s no more personal than my e-mail address. As I’ve told many friends before, “I live my life on the Internet”….I know that I probably put too much information on the Internet, but it isn’t something I constantly worry about. Even something as simple as my name and birthday can be used to steal my identity. And yet, I barely bat an eyelash when it comes to sharing information via social networks.

Daniel Lyons: (Newsweek) “Maybe it’s a generational thing. People my age (nearly 50, a.k.a. “the olds” in blogosphere parlance) would probably rather part with a few bucks than with our personal information. Younger people don’t have as much money, and don’t care as much about privacy. So they’re happy to go along with the deal being offered to them by Google and Facebook. What’s happening is that our privacy has become a kind of currency. The genius of Google, Facebook, and others is that they’ve created services that are so useful or entertaining that people will give up some privacy in order to use them. Now the trick is to get people to give up more—in effect, to keep raising the price of the service.

Baillie Buchanan: “To some extent I believe it is up to the user to be careful about how much information they share on Facebook, or really any other online site. Privacy policies are important certainly and should be strictly adhered to, but I think the first step is the user only posting or sharing information that they are comfortable with anyone knowing – and assuming that not just your “friends” are able to see it.”

Sam Davidson: “I think most millennials don’t care and won’t do much differently. We’re used to being marketing to (our diapers even have brands on them – brands other than the manufacturer), so we’re fine with people having our information and personalizing ads. Bring it on. It may actually make my life simpler. I’ve said for a while now that I’ll be the first to use thumbprint scanners at the supermarket checkout (that link to my CC) if I don’t have to carry my wallet anymore.”

Anne Mahoney:In some respects I’ve drank the Kool-Aid about Americans being overly-sensitive re: privacy and have adopted an attitude of, “handing over my info will get me the best service.” In the UK, apparently privacy isn’t such a big deal. Stephen Baker (author of the BusinessWeek’s “Math Will Rock Your World”) made this point during a speech recently while defending the positive uses of data. I agree with Sam (Davidson) – I frequently sacrifice privacy for convenience – but it takes just one mishap by hackers or data misuse to feel exposed, vulnerable and taken-advantage of. Handlers of data need more proof of reassurance than a “we do not share” label on their website.”

Derek Yegan: “Yes privacy and convenience go hand in hand. Yes, everything becomes easier the more we allow for transparency. What is a public domain and what is private on the internet is difficult to say.  A bit of caution in the wind to those unwilling to accept that fact.”