Children Likely to Reveal Information Online

While parents are weighing the Internet’s educational value against its potential misuse and the protection of a family’s privacy, a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that many kids will reveal sensitive family information online when enticed with a free gift.

The study, “The Internet and the Family 2000,” found the majority of parents who have home Web access look favorably upon the Internet — 89 percent believe access to the Internet helps children with their schoolwork and 85 percent believe children discover fascinating, useful things they have never heard of before on the Internet. But parents still have fears about their children’s use of the Internet. Almost three-quarters (74 percent) are concerned their children give out personal information on the Net.

The study found that parents and kids agree that teenagers should have to get their parent’s permission before giving out information online (96 percent of parents and 79 percent of kids).

“While children seem to share their parent’s concern about online privacy, many kids are nevertheless willing to give out sensitive information with the enticement of a free gift,” said Joseph Turow, Robert Lewis Shayon Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communications, and the author of the report. “Kids’ release of information to the Web could well become a new arena for family discord.”

Across all types of private information studied, kids are more likely than parents to say it is OK to give out sensitive information. In addition, older kids (13-17) are more likely than younger kids (10-12), and boys are more likely than girls, to say it is OK to give out sensitive family information in exchange for a free gift.

In exchange for a free gift:

  • 65 percent of kids are willing to give out the name of their favorite stores
  • 54 percent of kids are willing to give out the names of their parents’ favorite stores
  • 44 percent of kids are willing to give out the type of car the family drives
  • 39 percent of kids are willing to give out the amount of their allowance, whether their parents talk a lot about politics and what they do on the weekend
  • 26 percent of kids are willing to give out what their parents do on the weekend

According to the study, fully 69 percent of parents say they have talked to their kids about these issues and 66 percent of kids say they have had discussions with their parents. But when pairs of parents and children from the same family were interviewed, most didn’t agree on whether these sorts of discussions had ever taken place.

  • 41 percent of parents and 36 percent of youngsters report experiencing tensions at home over kids’ release of information to the Web
  • 46 percent of parents are not aware that Web sites gather information on users without their knowing it
  • 61 percent of parents say they are more concerned about 13 to 17-year olds than they are about younger children revealing sensitive information to marketers
  • 16 percent of 10-12 year olds admit to having given information about themselves to a Web site, older kids (13-17 year olds) are much more likely to do so (39 percent).

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