Survey: Many teens taking steps to protect mobile privacy

Nearly half of all teens and 59% of girls have turned off location sharing

Nearly half of all teens and 59% of girls have turned off location sharing

Listen to Larry Magid’s 1-minute CBS News Tech Talk segment, including clips from study lead author, Amanda Lenhart

A new report from the Pew Research Center and Harvard’s Berkman Center provides more evidence that teens are concerned about privacy when using mobile devices. This follows last week’s report that American teens care about online privacy.

The report, Teens and Mobile Apps Privacy found that:

  • 58% of all U.S. teens have downloaded apps to their phone or tablet computer
  • More than half (51%) of those teens have avoided certain apps due to privacy concerns.
  • More than a quarter (26%) of teen app users have uninstalled an app because “they found out it was collecting personal information they didn’t want to share.”
  • Just under half (46%) of teens have disabled the location tracking feature in their phone or on an app to prevent others from knowing where they are

Overall, 78% of American teens own a cell phone, 23% have a tablet and 82% have at least one of those devices.

Girls more likely to hide their location

Girls (59%) are a lot more likely than boys (37%) to turn off  geolocation. Also, girls are somewhat more likely than boys to own a tablet, but when it comes to downloading apps on both phones and tablet, boys (79%) are more active downloaders than girls (62%).

Kids like free apps

Kids typically download free apps, which is important because free apps often have advertising and/or collect some type of personal information as part of their monetization strategy.  In the focus groups associated with the study,  one 13 year-old girl said “Usually, I just stick to free ones. Because if I don’t like it, I can just delete it. And it doesn’t matter.”  A 17 year old girl told the researchers, “I [download] whichever [app] is free.”

Deciding what apps are OK

The kids also told the researchers that they do check reviews as well as the number of downloads and the appearance of the app. “I look t the reviews on Google play,” said one 17-year old girl. “I look to see what people are saying.”  A 17 year-old boy told the researchers, “If it got a million downloads, I’m like OK, it’s cool, people are downloading. But if it’s got like ten downloads …”

What this means

The report shows that most teens are clued in when it comes to privacy but there remains plenty of work to do to educate young people when it comes to protecting their privacy. It’s great news that 51% of phone or tablet using teens have avoided apps due to privacy concerns but that still leaves nearly half the population that hasn’t done so.  And, while plenty of apps do track your location, there remain plenty of teens who either don’t know, don’t care or don’t want to bother denying those apps the ability to know where they are.  To be fair, disabling geolocation on your phone also means you can’t use it for navigation or even programs that tell your parents where you are and there are some apps that simply won’t work if you deny them the ability to track you.

Different view of privacy

The study’s lead author, Pew’s Amanda Lenhart, told CBS News that teens “care about their privacy (but) it’s not always the same kind of privacy that we as adults have. Teens are  more concerned about privacy from their parents, their teachers, their schools.”

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