It is a commonplace among proponents of a "no secrets, nowhere to hide" society that young people, brought up in the internet age are happy to live in public on Facebook and mobile phone, and don't value their privacy. The hint is that doing so is somehow for fuddy-duddies.
But a study just published by the Royal Academy of Engineering suggests that so called Digital Natives actually have a more subtle understanding of what privacy means than those pooh-poohing it.
‘Privacy and Prejudice’ (full report available here) specifically studied the views of teenagers of the computerization and centralization of medical records – Electronic Patient Records (EPR). It is very clear:
Growing up in an era of the Big Brother television series and the expansion of social networking sites such as Facebook does not mean that young people do not care about privacy or what happens to their personal information. Privacy is indeed extremely important to young people. [...]
Young people have significant concerns regarding EPRs. These arise due to the perceived inherent weaknesses of an EPR system, including both the robustness (or not) of the technology and the potential errors that will be made by the users. Young people noticed that this could lead to incorrect data within a patient’s record, data loss (massive or individual) or the data reaching the ‘wrong hands’. The consequences were deemed to be very serious and include the improper treatment of patients, fundamental breaches in privacy, the misuse and inappropriate exploitation of the data, prejudice and discrimination.
They distinguish naturally between such systems, where the information included and the uses it is put to are not chosen by the subject but fundamentally affecting his or her life, and the social network, seen as a matter of self-projection and presentation. It’s the nature of the relationship that is important, who is in charge.
On this evidence teenagers also have a much clearer understanding of the meaning of privacy than government policy makers, who have just decided that the NHS Summary Care Records system can continue to be built by the sort of inertia selling that would be illegal for a commercial organisation. In future they will put an opt-out form in the envelope. Big deal. You will still be assumed irrevocably to have consented, regardless of your understanding of what you are being asked, if you fail to use it – on behalf of yourself and your children.
There are no plans to write to under-18s individually. Adults know better what’s good for them, apparently.
By Guy Herbert, NO2ID