A study commissioned by Truste paints a pretty optimistic picture about how teenagers are using privacy tools on Facebook and other social networking sites. The study, entitled "The Kids are Alright," (PDF) reports that "80 percent of parents and 78 percent of teens feel in control of their personal information on social networking sites" and that "84 percent of parents are confident their teen is responsible with personal information on a social networking site."
But the news isn't all good. The survey also found that more than two-third (68 percent) of teens have at some time accepted friend invites from people they don't know. Eight percent said they accepted all friend requests 34 percent said some and 26 percent said they rarely accept requests from people they don't know personally.
The survey, which was conducted by Lightspeed Research in late June of this year polled 1,929 panelists. Not surprisingly, Facebook was the dominant network. Ninety five percent of parents and 86 percent of teens with social networking pages were on Facebook. Only 26 percent of parents and 46 percent of teens with accounts were on MySpace. Twitter accounted for only 15 percent of parents and 10 percent of teens who use social networking sites.
Parents friend their kids
The study found that 86 percent of parents say they are "friends" with their teens and when the study compared what kids and parents said about usage, it found that 84 percent of parents have a "very good idea of how much time their teens are spending on social networks." It also found that most parents actually know what types of data teens are posting. For example, 80 percent of parents said that they think their kids have posted a picture compared to 82 percent of teens who said they posted their picture.
Surprisingly, 52 percent of parents and 59 percent of teens said that "the privacy settings on Facebook are clear and easy to use and the majority said that they rarely (31 percent of parents and 39 percent of teens) or never (12 percent of parents and 21 percent of teens) "worry about your privacy when using Facebook."
Privacy from friends, including parents
When teens use privacy controls on Facebook to hide information from some of their friends, they may also be hiding it from their parents. Sixty percent of the teens said they always, frequently or sometimes "use privacy controls to share something on a social networking website with some friends and not others. Fewer parents (55 percent) said that they use privacy controls.
One thing most parents do want are better default privacy settings for teens. Nearly nine out of 10 parents (89 percent) agree or strongly agree that "social networking websites should have default privacy settings for users between 13 and 17 years old that limit their profile access."
Different picture than recent Common Sense Media survey
What's interesting about this survey is that it was released shortly after Common Sense Media announced the results of a Zogby survey that found that "92 percent of parents are concerned that kids share too much information online" and that 75 percent of parents "say they would rate the job that social networks are doing to protect children's online privacy as negative." Although the two surveys didn't ask exactly the same questions, they do paint very different pictures of parental concern about youth safety. One factor could be when the polls were taken. As I pointed out in my analysis of the Common Sense poll, it was taken in August shortly after The Wall Street Journal started its series on tracking cookies and children's privacy. The Truste poll was taken not too long after Facebook announced that it had simplified its privacy settings.
Truste is a for-profit company that provides privacy certification and compliance services to companies, including Facebook.
Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook, MySpace, and other technology companies.