Are Young People Hacked Off With Data Security? - Youth Culture Snippet #1


In the wake of the recent celebrity iCloud nude photo hacking, YouthSight is sharing previously unreported data about how young people view their own online personal data security.

Youth Research & Insight Team at YouthSight
Youth Research & Insight Team at YouthSight

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In the wake of the recent celebrity iCloud nude photo hacking, YouthSight is sharing previously unreported data about how young people view their own online personal data security. We found that social media appears to be resilient to data security threats despite the stated concerns of young people. For young people, the link between social media and personal data security is often invisible until a breach highlights cause for concern.

 

The 2013 Snapchat hack

At the end of 2013 it was revealed that the security of the image-sharing application Snapchat had been breached by an anonymous group of hackers. A week after the leak, we conducted research with 1,000 young people in the UK aged between 16 and 24, in order to gauge any subsequent changes in attitudes to Snapchat and by inference, online security.

In December 2013, the information of an estimated 4.6 million users was openly published on the internet. This data hack provoked public concern over the significant threat to Snapchat’s largely young user base. Although this was an isolated hack, the problem stretched further. Many members of the social networking app were using the same usernames and passwords for other social media platforms; so while only Snapchat had been directly targeted by the hackers, users were subsequently left vulnerable to the threat of further hacks using their published Snapchat details.

Immediately after the Snapchat hack, 45% of the young people questioned stated that the hack had made them more concerned about their online personal data.

Snapchat users also questioned their future use of the app, with 9% of Snapchat users under the age of 25 stating that they intended to stop using the application altogether. A further 15% said they would use the application less. That’s nearly a quarter of 16-24 year olds thinking twice about using Snapchat again!

But, as they say, time heals most things; and despite the concern raised by young people in the UK in January, Snapchat is more popular than ever. In the US, Snapchat’s popularity amongst 18-24 has more than doubled since January, making it more popular than Twitter amongst the American youth (according the most recent comScore Mobile Metrix, US, June 2014). Without data about the UK market, US data suggests that young people have not rejected Snapchat since the hack.

 

Is this concern short lived?

So is personal data security really an issue for young people, or are their stated concerns just empty posturing? Looking at the fall-out from the Snapchat hack, it would appear that the concern of young people is short lived. However, the trend to use more closed and/or anonymous social media platforms (such as Snapchat) is indicative of a behavioural shift online. Social media platforms such as Facebook, which allow access to the everyday lives of their users, are now becoming graveyard of memories best forgotten.

Drunken photos from Freshers’ week, selfies with exes that you no longer speak to and the hilarious updates where you philosophise ‘the worst part about calling in for a sick day is the pressure of knowing you only have one shot to do the “I’m sick” voice’.

 

Personal details no longer equate to personal identity

Is the definition of personal data changing as well? Are email addresses and usernames no longer safeguarded by young people? Is content king, over and above the personal details used to access the content? The recent iCloud hack suggests that this might be the case. With apparent ease, hackers had been able to access images from celebrity iCloud accounts, with some photos dating back to 2011. However it wasn’t until the images obtained from the hack went public that people started to again take an interest in data security.

The appeal of apps such as Snapchat is that they offer something different to young people, a new way to communicate without leaving a digital footprint. With limited visibility to the users’ life (because the images self-destruct after a matter of seconds) and the fact that many young people create new email addresses for the purposes of using such apps, hacks that leak usernames and passwords are less likely to infringe on the real identity of the user and therefore considered less serious.

Whatever the future may bring, personal online data (in whatever form it may take) will remain a hot topic for the social media giants who are eager to monetise access to the lives broadcast on their platforms. What should be taken from the Snapchat scandal and the recent iCloud celebrity hacks is that access to personal data alone is not enough to make young people change their online behaviour.

The new and more worrying threat is when hacks give access to and expose our personal details to an unintended audience; and the reality is that young people are more at risk than any other age group as their lives are already documented online, often with little censorship.

With thanks to Daniel Norman.

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