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Why have millennials surrendered their online privacy?

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 4:52pm
Daniele DeAngelis Walker, Editorial Intern

Every click you make could have real-world consequences, whether you’re shopping online or posting incriminating pictures. Terms like “internet safety” don’t mean what they used to, but a lot of us haven’t caught up yet. Is this because the internet is changing faster than we are or because we just don’t care? Do millennials take safety and privacy of their online lives for granted?

We’ve all heard countless times that once we put something on the internet, it’s there forever. But we don’t think in terms of permanency. We think in terms of 140-character limits, posts, and pictures that will be buried in a news feed within seconds. We take for granted that social media sites change as rapidly as our thoughts and feelings. And countless people among us post their most intimate thoughts and feelings every moment of their lives. We do this thoughtlessly, because our posts rarely if ever come back to haunt us.

But what about the posts that do come back to haunt us, like this girl’s selfie? She took it down, but the record remains. And so do the consequences. She’s even faced legal discipline for it. And this girl, this photo, is not the only one. Everyone from politicians to celebrities to everyday teens seems to have a scandal surrounding internet pictures and social media posts. And it’s always the same story: You can delete the posts themselves, but you can’t delete their impact. It would be so easy not to post or send incriminating pictures and information, but we don’t stop to think before posting.

And what about our activities on the rest of the internet? A cavalier attitude toward privacy can get anyone in trouble, even if they’ve never touched social media. We instruct sites from emails to favorite stores to save our passwords and our credit card information. We don’t think about the fact that our information could be compromised, even stolen. We think instead about how this will make our lives just a little easier, make our tasks just a little faster. As we click from page to page, countless corporations are tracking our moves to trick us with advertising and use us for their own analyses. To all of these corporations, our private lives aren’t private or even ours. Our private lives are just data and their data at that. 

But still, we continue with our careless online lives. Even after hearing about others’ mistakes and misfortunes, even after falling into our own, we go on trusting the internet too blindly and too much.

The question forefront in my mind is why? Previous generations weren’t so devil-may-care with their privacy, so why are millennials? 

Perhaps it’s because we, and those even younger than us, grew up with technology. Whereas older generations saw the internet introduced after decades without it, millennials have always had the internet and all its accommodations at their fingertips. The internet is familiar, and millennials trust it unconditionally because we’ve never known anything else. We don’t think about posting information that’s way too personal because that’s the culture in which we were raised. We don’t worry about putting private information online because it’s never occurred to us that we need to.

But we do need to worry.

Personally I was raised by parents skeptical of technology, yet I still grew up in the Digital Age. When it comes to internet privacy, I have a foot in both worlds: I would never disclose my address or save my credit card information online, but I do have and use Facebook and Twitter profiles. I don’t know exactly where I stand on millennial culture, because I don’t think it’s all good or all bad.  But here’s what I do know: The internet has changed, and is still changing, radically. Being online means something totally different for our private lives. And so each individual needs to think about their position on internet usage and safety. 

What do you think about all this? Where do you draw your own internet safety and privacy lines? Voice your opinion in the comments below.

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