For many teens, a first name is okay to post online since it is relatively generic. More than 4 out of 5 teens (82%) with online profiles post their first name to their profile. Photos are also frequently posted by teens to their profiles, with 79% of teens posting a photo of themselves and 66% posting photos of friends to their online profiles. When asked in focus groups whether they had any concerns about publicly posted photos, most teens said they were not worried about risks to their privacy. They felt that, for the most part, there was not enough information in the photos posted, even when combined with the information contained in the profile, to compromise their privacy or safety. Other teens told us that they had set their profiles to private or deliberately made their age younger to achieve a higher level of restricted access built into the social network they use. This allows them to protect their privacy while still sharing information with an approved group of friends.
The “city or town where you live” is posted to the profiles of 6 in 10 teens who have online profiles. And just about half of teens say they have put their school name up online. Four in ten teens say they have posted their IM Screen name, streaming audio or mp3 files, or access to their blog. Three in ten teens say they have posted their last name, their email address, or a video file to their online profile. A mere 2% of teens have posted their ultra-personal cell phone number to their online profile.
Few teens disclose their full name on public profiles.
Overall, 14% of online teens post both their first and last name to their online profile. Looking at the data another way, 26% of teens with online profiles post their full names. However, most of these teens who include their full name restrict access to their profile; just 6% of online teens and 11% of profile-owning teens post their first and last name to a publicly viewable profile that is visible to anyone online.
Just 7% of online teens say they post their full name, a photo of themselves, their school name, and the city or town where they live to their online profile. This represents 13% of all profile-owning teens. Again, most of these “transparent teens” restrict who has access to their profile; just 3% of online teens, and 5% of profile-owning teens disclose all of these details on a publicly viewable profile.
Girls and boys have different levels of disclosure on their online profiles.
Girls and boys make different choices about giving out personal information online. Girls are more likely than boys to say that they have posted photos both of themselves and of their friends onto their online profile. Boys are more likely to say they have posted the city or town where they live, their last name and their cell phone number when compared with girls.
This differential between the sexes was reinforced by comments from our focus groups. When teens, particularly girls, talked about protection of their privacy online, their main concern was the protection of their physical self – if a piece of information could easily lead to them being contacted in person, girls would not share it readily. A middle school girl explains “If they can access you, like person to person or in any way other than [the internet], it’s not okay…Like if they can…talk to you, if they can find out where you live, that’s not okay. If you’re putting anyone in danger, it’s not all right.” But for modes of communication that were not physical or “real world,” girls were more likely to share information of that type.
Most interestingly, a teen’s school name seems to be the exception to the general rule of withholding specific location information, or information that can be used to contact you in the real world. Some teens were concerned by it, others less bothered.
Culturally, some of the attitude differences between boys and girls may be explained by the messages transmitted to girls about their own safety and the need to protect themselves through different rules and expectations set in homes for girls and boys.
As one older high school boy put it: “Girls are more vulnerable than guys are... I have two older sisters and my parents tell me that all the time. They let me get away with stuff that they never got away with.”
Another older high school boy noted: “I have an older sister and a younger sister, and I watch over my little sister. They are kind of like are more lenient when she’s with me. But if she’s not, she’s in at 10:00. If she’s with me, she can come home at like three, four in the morning.”
Older teens share more personal information than younger teens.
Younger teens and older teens have different information sharing practices as well. Older teens ages 15-17 with online profiles are more likely than younger teens to post photos of themselves or friends to their profile as well as share their school name online. Older girls are more likely than any other group to share photos of friends, while younger girls are more likely than younger boys to have shared information about their blog on their profile.
Our focus group participants were aware that parents and other adults might see their profiles. A middle school girl said this: “When I’m on MySpace I will never put anything on it that I wouldn’t want my parents to see. People have stuff, my friends have stuff like ‘What Victoria Secret model are you?’ And a picture of a girl in lingerie.”
Meanwhile, a high school girl had this to say: “Yes...not just because you don’t want your parents to see it, but if your parents wouldn’t approve of it it’s obviously not something that you should be putting on there because other people would think you’re a different type person…and the dean of students got an anonymous MySpace account was looking at everyone’s, so you wouldn’t want them to see it. And colleges, I know colleges have been looking MySpace and if they don’t like what you post on there they don’t [admit you].”
We conducted a similar activity in our focus groups in which we asked teens to categorize various pieces of personal information into groups that were never okay to share, which were okay to share under certain circumstances and those which were almost always okay to share online.
Teens in our focus groups debated whether or not it was okay to share or post their school names on their profile. Half of teens have their school name posted to their profile, and many of them felt it was a way for friends to find them. They said they felt like their school was big enough and safe enough that it would be difficult for someone to find them using the name of their school and other information on the profile. But others, particularly those who went to smaller schools and lived in smaller towns, felt that it was giving out too much information. Teens from small towns and suburbs felt similarly about revealing their city or town online, while urban teens felt much more at ease posting their location. As one high school girl put it: “It depends on how big it is. [My town] isn’t that big so if someone says do you know where this person lives they’re like yeah…”