These past few weeks we’ve been bombarded with stories about a data breach involving Facebook and a certain consulting firm called Cambridge Analytica, accused of harvesting millions of people’s data illegally. We’re told that some 87 million have been affected, and that we should all turn our backs on Facebook.
It’s big news, I get it. Thing is, I don’t really give a shit. Nor do a lot of other young people - which is probably why we haven’t seen a mass protest about it. We’ve got bigger problems to worry about like home ownership and mental health.
I’m part of a generation of digital natives who’ve grown up with and come to depend on social media, but ultimately don’t question it, for better or for worse. If we’re not posting stuff 24/7, then we’re liking and sharing other people’s crap. From day one, we’ve had to accept that having our personal information held by companies and organisations is just the name of the game. And, whether we like it or not, there’s little we can do about it - short of disconnecting from the internet altogether.
In How Millennials Think Differently About Online Security, Larry Alton notes that millenials are “more idealistic and less constrained” than other generations when it comes to online security. Picking up on a poll done in 2016, he says that millennials place a lot of trust in institutions holding personal data about them such as credit card companies, email providers and banks, despite awareness of the risks attached to it. He adds that while our trust in social media websites is poor, we’re too connected to care, and have a low expectation of privacy.
Could it be true? Are we really that careless when it comes to online security? I put the question of data breaching to a number of friends of mine aged 18-24, and asked whether it’s discouraged them using Facebook. Hana, 24, said: “I’ve grown up in an era where I’m relatively exposed online - so I’m used to that lack of privacy. I think as long as money isn’t being taken or my bank details messed with then it doesn’t particularly bother me.”
Cain, 23, likewise notes that the need to be visible on social media has made young people lazy with regards to protecting their personal information. When asked if he’d come off Facebook, he responded: “Nope. Because if I did then I’d have to come off all platforms. You’d be a fool for thinking that this is just a Facebook issue.”
True, Facebook usage amongst teenagers and twenty-somethings is going down, but that’s only because other social media platforms have become more popular. It’s got nothing to do with online security, and more to do with what’s hot right now. According to eMarketer: “Many teens already prioritise social networks such as Instagram and Snapchat over Facebook, and that trend is bound to increase as ever younger consumers join social media.”
If we were really so concerned about our personal data getting nicked, then surely we wouldn’t be so active on social media in the first place? The truth is, we’re too preoccupied with how good we look online to give two shits about information leaks.
A few people I spoke to on reddit seem to share my concerns. One user said: “I can't think of any use my data would have for anyone, so, yeah, I don’t really care”. Another responded: “I've grown up in a world where I just assume everyone has or can get my information. Same with surveillance.”
Part of the problem, it seems, is our lack of cyber security awareness. A new study has found that 52% of Brits aged 18-25 use the same passwords for multiple websites, and are, therefore, leaving themselves open to identity theft. I’m guilty of this, largely because I can’t be bothered to come up with multiple password combinations. As Detective Inspector Mick Dodge, National Cyber Protect Coordinator for the City of London police rightly points out: "You wouldn't leave your door open for a burglar, so why give criminals an open invitation to your personal information?"
Sadly, a lot of young people (me included) don’t think this way. The truth is online data threats feel less real to us than they actually are. Whenever we hear about them in the news, it’s usually in reference to large groups or organisations rather than individual people. Maybe we’d care more if there was more coverage on how it affects each and every one of us personally.