Managing our privacy and security in an online world
As all of our lives become ever more reliant upon technology, fundamental questions about how we manage privacy, security and information in the digital world are increasingly pressing.
These are big concepts that society has considered and refined its position on to a high degree of sophistication over many years. But we are still grappling with how best to navigate these questions in a digital setting. What sources of information can we trust online? What data do we share and with whom when we visit different websites or use our smartphone? How do we best protect our information and security while maximizing the benefits that digital services can offer?
Our new research study explores how ‘digitally savvy’ people in the UK are – and examines how people’s behaviour varies depending on their age, gender, level of affluence and which part of the UK they live in. Many of the results are surprising.
There is often an assumption that young people have a high degree of digital skills and understanding but may be carefree or complacent when it comes to their digital security and privacy. In contrast, some commentators commonly describe older people as being more cautious and security conscious online, while lacking the ‘innate’ digital skills of younger generations.
Our data suggests that the reality is a lot more complicated that these simple stereotypes. Younger people are indeed more likely to be more ‘open’ in their online engagements – for example they are far more likely to share photos online, to have public social media profiles, or to feel comfortable using public wifi networks for tasks such as online banking or emailing.
However, there are some areas where the security practices of older people appear less well refined than those in the younger age groups. For example, more than half of those aged over 55 use a password or a passcode to protect their mobile phone. Older people are also less likely to ever turn off phone location services – with only a third of over 55s ever doing so. This location data is most commonly used by commercial companies to track behaviour and provide targeted advertising, but it can also be used by criminals for identity theft and use of location services can also increase the risk to personal security.
The research also found different behavior patterns between men and women. Men are more likely to verify online information against another source, to use a passcode to protect their phone and to use a different name online. Meanwhile, women are more likely to share photos online and to be more cautious in their use of public wifi networks.
In terms of variations by different UK nations, people in Wales are most likely to share photos online, people in England use the widest range of sources to find information, people in Scotland are most security-conscious in relation to their mobile phones, while people in Northern Ireland are most cautious in their use of public wifi.
All of this highlights the wide range of different experiences and skills that people have in managing their digital security, privacy and information – and points to a need for more tailored support and advice to help people develop their skill and knowledge. Whether you’re reconnecting with long-lost friends and family in Australia, paying for your electricity bill, shopping online, or creating new digital content, privacy and security remain key priorities.
Libraries across the country provide a safe, friendly environment to improve digital skills. Some charities are offering the opportunity to learn digital skills and meet new friends in the process. Peer support is also vital. Many research studies clearly show that people prefer learning digital skills – including how best to manage privacy and security issues – from friends and family.
Digital offers us so many new opportunities and benefits. The challenge for us all to ensure we have the skills, confidence, expertise and knowledge to maximize these advantages while mitigating the risks.
By Douglas White, Head of Advocacy for the Carnegie UK Trust
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