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It’s time we stopped calling Millennials “dumb” about data privacy

Among the impressions people have of Millennials is that they are self-obsessed, addicted to oversharing on social media, and clueless when it comes to online privacy. Here's why that's wrong.

Millennials and privacyIf Millennials think the world revolves around them, it’s not hard to see why.

The Millennial generation – which includes anyone born between 1980 and 1999 – is the biggest in history. In the US alone, there are 80 million of them – about 25% of the total population.

Millennials are also the most educated and they adopt new technologies at a higher rate than any previous generation – making them a very attractive demographic for businesses from Apple to Uber.

According to a US Chamber of Commerce Foundation research review, which says Millennials are “likely the most studied generation to date,” this generation is also optimistic, entrepreneurial and “masters of self-expression.”

Yet, despite these admirable qualities, Millennials get a bad rap.

Typing the phrase “Millennials are” into Google brings up suggested search terms from popular searches associated with the phrase – and they are not flattering: apparently, many people think Millennials are “lazy,” “stupid,” or simply “the worst.”


Among the impressions people have of Millennials is that they are self-obsessed, addicted to oversharing on social media, and clueless when it comes to privacy online.

The headline from a recent USA Today article about a study of the digital lives of Millennials – “Millennials indifferent about digital privacy” – would seem to back up those stereotypes.

Except the study data doesn’t show that at all: two-thirds of Millennials are concerned about online privacy.

One of the Millennials quoted in the USA Today story, an attorney named Kristen Lim, unwraps the stereotype this way:

I think there's this perception that Millennials don’t care about privacy because we’re always on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook talking about our lives with the world. But that's not about privacy, that's about a sense of self.

But what do Millennials think about all the data those social media companies and online merchants are collecting about them?

They’re not as comfortable with it as you might think.

Another Millennial quoted by USA Today, 26-year-old temp worker Lydia Sass-Basedow, said she is “mindful” of what she posts online and is careful with her privacy settings and whom she is friends with on social media.

Millennials are also fighting back against brands that over-market to them in concrete ways, like blocking phone numbers, unsubscribing from email lists, or uninstalling apps that spam them with push notifications, according to the marketing analytics and customer loyalty firm Aimia.

Millennials are the most likely group to permanently disengage with companies that send high volumes of generic email communications – as one marketing publication put it, “Millennials will ditch brands that spam them.”

In a sense, Millennials are the guinea pigs in the grand experiment of our information age.

They’ve been at the forefront of adopting social media and smartphones, and even the oldest Millennials were immersed in the internet by the time they left their teens. The youngest have never known a world without “Google” as a verb.

Because online connections to friends and even strangers via apps and community platforms comes naturally to them, some Millennials have very different attitudes about online privacy than their parents in the Baby Boomer generation and older siblings in Generation X.

But let’s not assume people are cavalier about data privacy just because they are willing to give up some privacy in exchange for convenience or tailored online experiences.

Adults of all ages are increasingly wary of data collection by companies and governments – but few believe they have control over it.

Many of us feel resigned to giving up our data because we feel powerless over it, says Joseph Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, and author of a study called “The Tradeoff Fallacy.”

For some services, disengaging doesn’t feel like an option – in a survey we conducted on Naked Security, we found that not many people want to quit Facebook, despite their privacy concerns, for fear of losing valuable connections with friends and family.

Interestingly, it’s younger people who are the ones abandoning Facebook in favor of other social networks like Instagram (which is actually owned by Facebook) – it won’t protect them from Facebook having their data, but it at least gives them more privacy from their Facebook-using parents.

Rather than snarking on them, maybe we should be looking for lessons from how Millennials are dealing with the privacy dilemma.

Tips for better digital privacy

If you think there’s nothing you can do to protect your privacy from data collectors, that’s just not true. Here are some of our top resources for better online privacy.

Image of girl with bar code on her neck courtesy of Shutterstock.


Are you really suggesting that posting your life on instagram is more secure than posting your life on facebook? Surely you jest.


I meant to say that young people are moving to Instagram to get more privacy from their parents. Instagram may not be much better in terms of privacy overall. We updated the article to reflect that intention.


I am 34 years old, and do not consider myself a Millennial, and find this to be very offensive to me. I feel the year should be moved up from 1980 to around 1990 to 1999 since they were born and raised during the advent of the internet and technological breakthroughs. I also give them a bad rap due to the fact that they do not understand that they are in control of what data they give companies. The more they share and discuss the more data they give these companies to aggregate and produce a cyber profile of these individuals. These individuals have been constantly hooked to the web and technology that they have become addicted to it and do not consider the ramifications of what they post and how it relates to future careers and their life.


Completely agree with Dan on this one. I am 35 and I can completely relate to what Dan mentioned. If I talk to anyone who was born in the 90s just to try to make them aware about issues such as cyber security, data theft, privacy issues etc., I am told I am “paranoid”. If I talk to people in my own age group, they do listen and either take steps to secure their data or atleast know what could be the consequences of sharing all that data.


I was born in the 90’s
I’m hyper vigilant about online privacy,
1. refuse to download apps because I don’t agree that they should be allowed to access things that should be private (At one stahe Google was even allowing app creators valuable data such as emails etc)
2. Do not post personal content to Facebook (I rarely even use it)
3. Disagree with any government or company accessing my location, emails, phone calls or any data that could be sold or provide any link to my identity
4. Want to downgrade my phone because smart phones give way too much information to the wrong people and find the whole app thing pointless.
5. Use Tor and other programs to hide my identity online even for general browsing. (Google has multiple scripts trying to following me EVERYWHER)
6. Barely use the internet any more. It bores me.
7. Rarely purchase anything online.
And lastly
8. Find it ironic there is a like button etc. following me down the page.
Besides maybe 6 I’m not unique in my age group. Uncommon at worst. But I remember when I was younger how ignorant I was and how little I cared about online security. Online Security Ignorance isn’t a generational thing. It’s an age group thing. Those below the age of 25 (give or take depending on experiences) either don’t understand or care about their online presence. Especially in the teenage years when the brain actually cannot take into account long term future consequences. Other factors at play could include drinking cultures, the volume of online presence, local cultures, birth rates, age related technology use (eg. Certain age groups only utilise a proportion of the internets capabilities with older age groups using less than older ones), education, socio-economics, the list goes on.



You do know that Tor does nothing to hide your identity or your web traffic. It still has to exit and those governments that actively monitor those exit nodes can build a good profile of users and what they are doing online. If you want privacy get offline and live off the grid and do not use any technological advancements and live off the land in a remote location of the US or part of the world. If you are online you are tracked despite the promises of anonymous web traffic and identity hiding plugins and tools. People that expect privacy in a technological world are very naive about the technology that is out there that claims to protect or enhance it. Some of the tor nodes exist in parts of the world I distrust such as China, Taiwan, Russia, some parts of Europe, and some north eastern Asia.

You state this:

3. Disagree with any government or company accessing my location, emails, phone calls or any data that could be sold or provide any link to my identity

The government and various companies have been collecting data on you since the day you were born that include medical issues and what not and they can give that information out to third parties. I know this for a fact, because I am a diabetic, and I get phone calls from pharmacies clear across the United States asking me if I am in need of a new testing meter, and to see if I have any diabetic nerve pain, so you being online and with an internet account means you are a walking contradiction, and that you need to re-evaluate the technology that you use on a daily basis even with all your so “called” privacy and anonymous protecting tools. If you are online you shouldn’t expect privacy, then if you do expect privacy then you need to look up the definition of “public domain”. I equate being online to being at the shopping mall with thousands of people surrounding you that are capable of listening in on your conversation while using a cell phone or intercepting your wireless data traffic and analyzing it for important data. That wifi hot spot you last connected to could have been setup as a data collector and they have your data and calls. The only places that I expect privacy are

1) Doctors Office
2) Lawyers Office (Lawyer / Client Confidentiality)
3) Behind the confessional at church

Any other places my privacy is not guaranteed, and yes that includes my own house as I am married and have a son and they know my private information and details.

If you live in the US and you have a SSN and working, then the Government any companies already have your data and can access it and sell it for what they want.

Ask yourself these questions:

1) Would you disclose your account number for your bank over the phone in a mall?

2) Would you take a job interview in public on your phone?

3) Would you verify your identity over the phone by giving the end point your SSN, Bday, Moms Maiden Name, and the last street you lived on along with current address?

If you answered yes to any of these then you do not care about your privacy as you state you do.

Also if you answered yes to the above questions, then one can assume that you would easily send this information via email as well violating your privacy.


Born in ’92, and I’m a cybersecurity consultant by trade. I’ve done tons of security testing across a broad spectrum of industries and in general most company’s security measures leave a lot to be desired. If you older folks had so much awareness for security and care about privacy, why is this the case? Seems to me like you’re criticizing a whole generation of people without even thinking how many people your own age handle their cybersecurity.


The current digital age has seemingly breeded a herd of sheep who bleat to the beck and call of social media companies without considering the consequences. Young people are either ignorant or basically just dont care who ends up with the Big data they post on the internet whether it be through facebook or some other means.


Also agree with Dan and Anonymous35. I’m 35, not on facebook, work in IT, and don’t consider myself to be a “Millennial”. Grouping everyone born over a 20 year time period into a single category isn’t really a good idea.


That’s how generations work. It’s why I’m a Gen Xer and my wife (2 years younger) is a Gen Y/Millennial. It happens. It’s not profiling, man… we’ve done it this way forever.


Agreed — the goalposts shift around a bit, but seem to have settled on Gen-X ending in 1979 and Millenial starting in 1980. However, when I was younger, Gen-X stopped at 1974 an Millenial hadn’t begun to exist yet. Those between 1975 and 1989 were presented as being in a generational gap, where they had no identity of their own, followed by Gen-Y.

Over time, not identifying with Gen-X OR Millenial has become part of the Gen-X definition (which has changed over time). So yes, it’s not profiling, because the generalization of the group shifts over time to match the largest group possible.


People really need to understand that generalizations and stereotypes reflect a large percentage of a population, not all of them. Quit taking things so personally. By that I mean, as a redneck, I think it’s pretty safe to say rednecks to exactly embody the image of scholarly education, but I have a Master’s degree. And I know several other that do as well. That doesn’t make the redneck image of “Hold my beer and watch this!” untrue at all.


If you are on Facebook — whether you’re a GenX or a GeezerX — you don’t care about your privacy.


What rot. I guess if I walk alone at night I don’t care about being bashed and raped? Seriously, get a grip man.


Facebook has been notorious for MANY years for compromising user privacy. There is no longer any excuse for NOT knowing this fact. Yes, a FACT. Therefore, when someone uses Facebook, they are flaunting well-known risks. In other words, they don’t care.


Online privacy? Pah! You’re all sooo 2014.

Go into a hairdressers. That’s a personal information heaven. Holidays and dates when people aren’t going to be home, full names of individuals, addresses being passed over, telephone numbers being spoken, card transactions (where’s that merchant slip being stored??), kids names (possible passwords??), pets, employment, partners, friends.

You could get a blue rinse and within 30 minutes you’ve almost there with identity fraud. Wouldn’t work for me though, I’m bald! :)


I suppose I’m a millennial, seeing as I was born in ’89. I’m an infosec analyst and pen tester, and I use a lot of social media. I enjoy how it helps me engage with people from all over the world, giving me new ideas and perspectives on just about everything.

In terms of privacy, I’m sure I’m perceived as being clueless by non-millennials because it would take very little effort for any of you to learn quite a bit about me in a short period of time. However, this is *intentional.* I don’t much care for being unknown, and everything I’ve posted on any social media outlet is a genuine part of my history, my maturity, and my growth. Regardless of how embarrassing or regrettable posts from my high school years may have been, for example, I can’t pretend they never happened. I find hiding them to be dishonest to both myself and to my posterity. I don’t want to be perceived as perfect, or even as ideal. I don’t want to be unapproachable, intimidating, or heroic. I want to be perceived as what I am: a fallible human being–with all of its unpopular characteristics–continually working to improve and grow as years pass. Perhaps when I do reach the height of my career, I may inspire anyone to accomplish the same because they would realize I’m fundamentally the same as everyone else, as they are.

Maybe other millennials think of their privacy in the same way. Or maybe they subscribe to the idea that oversharing *is* privacy, because there’s nothing secret to learn about them. Whatever the reason, I think it’s unwise to assume we’re all ignorant of the consequences. Perhaps non-millennials are just afraid of the unknown. But for millennials, it’s not unknown: We’re completely aware that there is absolutely nothing we can do to absolutely ensure total privacy.


Anyone reading Naked Security and responding to posts is a self-selected special case and not representative of his generation.

Dan and Anonymous35 argue that persons born between 1980 and 1989 should not be grouped with Millenials. A better argument is that they are simply not representative of their age group.

(I’m 70, glad you asked)


Maybe they just don’t like tags of that sort, in the same way that many people don’t like it when someone wants to know their ethncity or race, or insists they must have certain personality traits because they were born under the sign of Sagittarius.

“Millennial” is a particularly risky tag to stick people with because the word has many shades of meaning, some of are pejorative and insulting.


For me it is degrading and insulting, as I see millennial as a word to describe the entitlement society where they want and expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. I worked hard to get where I am, and today Millennials just do not have that drive they are too busy texting and buried head deep into mobility that they disregard social norms like talking at dinner or out with their friends. They sit around texting while out.


If they don’t like tags, they should get off the internet. I know that sounds mean, but the reality is, I don’t like hanging out with drunk people…as a result, I rarely go to bars. If I didn’t like or got offended by the internet, I’d go pick up a newspaper or a book or something that didn’t bother me. But then again, I grew up with stories like the donkey in the well.


I love the mistaken idea that the third millenium started on 1st January 2000 – in fact it started on 1st January 2001. The first millenium ran from 1st January year 1 (the Romans at the time did not have a numerical concept of zero so there wasn’t a year 0) and ran until 31st December year 1000 ( a whole 1000 years later). The second millenium ran from 1st January 1001 until 31st December 2000. That means the third millenium started on 1st January 2001 – not 2000 – and runs until 31st December 3000. Politicians got it wrong as they thought the ‘millenium bug’, more properly called the Y2k bug, was telling them the millenium changed at the start of 2000 but that was when the Y2k bug was thought to inflict harm on systems, but it had little effect and was nothing to do with the calendar millenium changing.


You should have been down at Circular Quay in Sydney on 31 December 1999 at 23:59…you could have told them all they were wrong, got them to save the big millennium fireworks for another year!


None of them realised they had hyped the wrong date, so would not have listened. Some of the ‘reasoning’ suggests the first decade only had 9 years and not 10! Others say a complete millenium is 999 years and not the full 1000.
The politicians still can’t grasp the concept that in the Roman numerical system there is no symbol for zero and therefore there could not have been a year zero. The change occured at the end of the year deemed to be the last in BC commonly known as 1 BC)and led immediately to the start of the first year AD (commonly known as 1 AD). There was no gap between the end of one and the start of the other, so no zero period.
I would have gone to Sydney but was in Aukland instead, their fireworks display was excellent, but premature like all the others. But we all enjoyed it. We had a proper mullienium party starting on the evening of 31st December 2000 and saw in the new millenium properly.


Most educated my ass. It’s the dumbest generation. They lack the ability to think critically, have no appreciation of history, philosophy, logic…They are tech savvy yes but education has been pared down to emplyment practicality and focus ratehr than a broad, classical education.
The fact that so many of them believe in man made global warming despite the fact that a bit of research, common sense and logic will reveal that it’s scientifically baseless and a fraud designed to provide the basis for world economic governance of every aspect of our lives shows that they lack critical thinking. The belief that everything the government and the organisations they fund tells us is true should have no place in a free-thinking, intelligent society.


I completely agree, and this is why I find it extremely offending to be grouped into this so called generation of “Millennial” I value history and have great respect for everything that has happened in the past as it has helped shape what we are today. The Millennial Generation is more focused on their own selfish needs then on the world as a whole. They are extremely self-centered and think that they are smarter then anyone else on the planet and respect no one including authority figures. They grew up in households where parents just did not parent for fear of being labeled as abusers. They grew up with a game controller in one hand, and an iPad in another, and with no discipline on how to act in public and at school. It is the most disrespectful generation in history.


just because Millennials “care” about privacy, doesn’t mean they’re smart about it. “smart” would be a generation pushing for encrypted email, or a generation that doesn’t use google. or a generation that doesn’t use apple. but obviously they all gravitate towards all that. So they “say” they care about privacy, but their actions say they don’t care at all.


First, thank you for this explanation: ” The Millennial generation – which includes anyone born between 1980 and 1999.”
Second. A question we could ask is who is saying that generation is dumb and selfish? Is it the very ones who were/are supposed to be teaching them how to be well rounded and productive people in Society? Just a thought. Though people are placed in this category, they are still human with the ability to reason on data privacy and other subjects, if they desire to. Just like everyone else.
I enjoyed this article. Thank you.


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