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Teens Care More About Online Privacy Than Twentysomethings In “Post-Snowden Era”

Young people are increasingly taking pains to protect their privacy online. If "‘Don’t talk to strangers,’ becomes ‘Delete your cookies,’ what does that mean for brands long-term?"

Posted on April 24, 2014, at 2:09 p.m. ET

The Intelligence Group

American teenagers are more concerned about online privacy and data collection than even twentysomethings in a "post-Snowden era," spurring a rise in apps and websites that prevent tracking or guarantee anonymity, according to a new survey from the Creative Artist Agency's Intelligence Group.

Only 11% of 14- to 18-year-olds share "a lot about themselves online," down from 18% a year ago, and compared with 17% of 19- to 24-year-olds and 27% of 25- to 34-year-olds, the youth-focused consumer insights group found in a survey of 1,300 people. About 60% of that youngest group said they "don't like things that last forever online," compared with 53% or less among 19- to 34-year-olds.

The NSA and government surveillance revelations exposed last year by Edward Snowden seem to have naturally resonated with teens, who've spent their entire lives growing up on and around the internet.

It's a "shared cultural moment," similar to 9/11 and the recession, and has resulted in a world where even 12-year-olds worry about cookies and privacy, said Jamie Gutfreund, chief strategy officer of the Intelligence Group, whose clients include Disney, Red Bull, and Nordstrom, among other major brands. Adding to that, many teens have come of age in an era where their parents might have shared milestones in their lives on Facebook or YouTube without their consent, giving them a "digital dossier that they are now dragging around," she said.

"Younger and younger consumers are aware of the value of their privacy, and what we're starting to see on a larger scale are parents who have become aware of that and are teaching their kids how to remain anonymous," she said. Teens also don't want certain opinions to be "eternally linked" to their identities, boosting the appeal of apps like Snapchat, where the communication exists outside the lasting gaze of say, Facebook or Twitter, she said.

About 18% of 14- to 18-year-olds share content on social media at least once a day, including status updates, photos, pins, or articles, compared with 28% of 19- to 24-year-olds and 35% of 25- to 34-year-olds, the survey found.

About 18% of 14- to 18-year-olds share content, including status updates, photos, pins, or articles, on social media at least once a day, compared with 28% of 19- to 24-year-olds and 35% of 25- to 34-year-olds, the survey found.

Via The Intelligence Group

There's a whole host of websites and apps outside of Snapchat, Whisper, Kik, and Secret that teens, as well as younger college students, are using to communicate either anonymously or more privately than traditional social media platforms allow, according to the Intelligence Group's report, known as the Cassandra Report. They're also deleting cookies and browser histories more often.

Backchat, designed by a 14-year-old, lets users send anonymous messages to friends then provides clues to help them figure out the sender's identity, while Hot Mess allows users to alert friends to embarrassments like "teeth gunk" or "dragon breath." Anonymous web browsers like Blippex and plug-ins like Disconnect that block targeted ads have steadily gained popularity. Even on the dating front, there's an app called Twine Canvas that matches users on personality first, based on images of their interests, revealing names, and photos and enabling messaging afterward.

That doesn't mean that teens are ditching traditional social platforms like Facebook, according to Gutfreund. They're just using them differently, she says.

The Intelligence Group's survey found that YouTube is the top social media platform for 14- to 24-year-olds, while Facebook ranks king among 25- to 34-year-olds. But that's just because Facebook has a different utility for teens — they might use it to get in touch with people or more as observers, whereas YouTube is where they're going to discover or even host new content to share with friends, she said.

Of course, the reason the Intelligence Group puts the report together is to help brands figure out what they should do to connect to consumers.

For one, it's a warning that the next generation of consumers will have an even lower tolerance for data collection.

"All these contests, all these 'tell me your opinions,' all these ways that brands have in the last few years engaged consumers so that they get information and get great data, if the consumer doesn't want that information to last forever, that's going to make it much harder to collect," Gutfreund said. "You're going to have to assure them it won't last forever, or you're getting some great value for sharing, and that's a big switch from Millennials."

Essentially, businesses will have to "hold different conversations" with this generation, she said.

"Google's business is being able to serve up ads at the right moment — if I'm deleting my cookies and my search history on Google all the time, doesn't it make it a little more challenging to deliver the right ad at the right moment?" she said. "If that becomes a bigger activity and a much more common way for people to engage and operate, and 'Don't talk to strangers,' becomes 'Delete your cookies,' what does that mean for brands long-term? It's much more ubiquitous for younger kids; we didn't figure it out until we were relatively older."

Twine Canvas is a "personality first, looks later" dating app

The Intelligence Group

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.