Busting the Millennial Privacy Myth

Busting the Millennial Privacy Myth

There is a widely held myth that people who grew up in a digital world aren’t concerned about online privacy. It seems to have become conventional wisdom that Millennials just accept lax privacy assurances as the price for leading their internet-focused lives. Well, it’s long past time to bust that myth, and a new nationwide poll does just that.

Just because Millennials are the first digital natives — having had computers, the internet, mobile phones and social media as part of their early lives — doesn’t mean they have a cavalier attitude about the way their personal information is handled. As it turns out, the privacy concerns of Millennials are just about as strong as those of us who were born before the advent of the digital age and the construction of an internet ecosystem that now touches all of our lives.

According to a comprehensive national survey conducted by the independent, nonpartisan research firm CivicScience for the Internet Innovation Alliance, Millennials value their online privacy, are concerned about the security of their personal data and worry that companies holding their personal information aren’t doing enough to protect it.

CivicScience found that nearly 70 percent of Millennials do not want their online data used to make searches, advertising or content more relevant, and nearly three-quarters (74%) are concerned with how tech / social media companies are using their online data and location information.

Millennials’ privacy worries closely mirror the privacy concerns of most Americans. Three-quarters of U.S. adults are not ok with online tech / social media companies using their personal data to make online searches, content and advertisements more relevant, and more than three-quarters (76%) of all U.S. adults are concerned with their online and location data being used for commercial purposes.

Unsurprisingly, two-thirds of Millennials are also worried about their financial information getting hacked from the online tech / social media companies that they use, and three-quarters of the nation’s Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have similar concerns. Worries about hacking were expressed by three-quarters of all U.S. adults.

Should Congress step in? Three out of four (72%) Americans think so. According to the CivicScience poll, 64% of Millennials believe there should be a single, national policy addressing consumer data privacy rules in the United States. A full three-quarters of Gen Xers and 77% of Baby Boomers feel the same. The view is shared by 70% of households with annual incomes under $50,000 and 74% of households with incomes above $50,000 per year. All races believe that there should be a single, national policy addressing data privacy rules. In fact, only 8% of Americans disagree with lawmakers putting a policy in place to address online privacy concerns.

It is rare in today’s political environment that we see so broad a consensus, with so many people from all walks of life agreeing on a major matter of policy.

Congress should listen to the public and adopt a uniform, comprehensive standard for data privacy that encompasses all companies within the internet ecosystem — from the content-providing edge to the last-mile internet service providers. It should apply nationwide to the exclusion of conflicting state rules, because the internet doesn’t stop at any state line.

Without state preemption, uncertainty would reign. Consider the mobile service provider whose customer lives in one state, travels to a different state and accesses an e-commerce site headquartered in a third state. The service provider is headquartered in a fourth state and uses a server data center in a fifth state. Whose law applies? A patchwork of different state laws would only sow confusion and impede the flow of electronic commerce.

Millennials know computers, they know the internet, and they know social media. They’ve lived their lives with a computer in their pockets. The mythological Millennial may throw caution to the wind, but real members of this younger generation know that they want privacy and data security protections for their online use. When it comes to internet privacy concerns, age is just a number.

Rick Boucher was a member of the US House for 28 years and chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet. He is honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) and a partner in the Washington DC office of the law firm Sidley Austin.

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