26 May 2013

Online Sharing

ACMA - Australia's national telecommunications regulator - has released another one of its rather self-congratulatory reports on privacy as part of its Cybersmart program, this time regarding young people. It is a shame that there was not more partnering with the Office of the Information Commissioner (i.e. the national government's privacy watchdog, but in practice ACMA and the OAIC are competitors.)

ACMA states that
In 2011–12, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) went into the field to survey children’s and young people’s attitudes towards the internet and social media. We looked particularly at their attitudes and behaviours around online risk and risk management, and explored the role of other people—mums and dads, brothers and sisters, and friends—in helping children and young people navigate their online lives.
This is the first in a series of related short reports to be published during 2013. The full report, Like, post, share—Young Australians experience of social media  — to be published later this year — sets out the findings from the qualitative and quantitative phases of the research. This evidence-based approach underpins Cybersmart program development, ensuring that the ACMA’s Cybersmart resources are relevant and tailored to address real concerns.
ACMA's report from the field - having dodged the pythons, tarantulas, crocodiles and other nasties in the telecommunications jungle - includes the following findings -
Australian children and young people are avid users of the internet and of social networking services (SNS). While access via a computer still predominates, increasingly children and young people are accessing the net on their mobile phones.
Popular SNS activities included playing games, posting comments on someone else’s posts or photos and—of course—posting their own updates. This activity is ‘out in the open’ and visible—at least to their friends and followers. However, another very popular activity we identified was private messaging. In the last four weeks, 28% of eight to nine-year-olds and 31% of 10 to 11-year-olds had sent private messages. In the older age groups, the rate climbed to 68% of 12 to 13-year-olds, 82% of 14 to 15-year-olds and 89% of 16 to 17-year-olds. The capacity for communications to be online, and yet under the radar, is something parents, teachers and policy-makers need to remain aware of.
A positive finding is that the majority of teen SNS users have set their profile to private.
However, the likelihood of children and young people posting personal information on social networks increased with age—from 28% of eight to nine-year-old SNS users to a significant 77% of 14 to 15-year-old users and 79% of 16 to 17-year-old users.
Eight to 11-year-olds were more likely to post their full name (16%) than they were to post other personal information. However, they were also more likely to post an age that wasn’t their real age (10%) than other information.
This has the same effect as posting under a pseudonym—it helps to mask true identity. However, it also signals the capacity for younger children to register for social networking services intended for those aged 13 years and older.
Older children (12 and older) and teenagers mainly posted photos of themselves (57–68%) and the name of their school (28–43%), followed by their full name (27–34%) and birth date (12–24%). A proportion (19–22%) also posted ‘ages that weren’t their real age’.
Relatively few of those surveyed posted their home address or mobile number—the age group most likely to post this information were the 14 to 15-year-old age group (11%). ....
Older teenagers were more likely than younger teenagers to report managing their privacy on social network services—51% of 12 to 13-year-olds had completed at least one of the identified actions, increasing to 68% of 14 to 15-year-olds and 67% of 16 to 17-year-olds. ...
ACMA concludes
On the whole, it seems that many Australian children and young people are aware of the need to stay safe and secure online. They acknowledge the importance of protecting their online privacy, and are actively taking steps to stay in control of the personal information they make public. However, the research indicates that while many are putting practical measures into place—setting their profiles to private, sharing passwords predominantly with parents rather than with others—children and young people from eight to 17 are sharing personal information and looking for new friends on the internet, and adding people they have never met face-to-face. While some of this may be inadvertent (for example, through unfamiliarity with the location-based capabilities of their smartphones or the actions of their friends) a significant proportion is self-initiated.
The answer? Unsurprisingly
The onus is on programs such as Cybersmart, working in partnership with families, schools, industry and other stakeholders, to ensure that children are given the information, skills and tools they need to be safe and secure digital citizens.