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Your willingness to share your data depends on your age

A recent survey shows the generational divide over data sharing.

Sharing data has become an everyday part of our lives online. In pursuit of convenience, we share our phone contacts with social networks, and allow those platforms to then monetise our data and engagement in order to provide ad-free experiences. 

But successive scandals around the misuse of personal data has quelled people’s willingness to share everything about them – and more people are circumspect about giving away too much information about their private lives. Yet that willingness depends on your age, according to a recent survey by Morning Consult.

Half of those belonging to Generation Z, who are born between 1997 and 2012, are highly uncomfortable with tech companies having too much insight into their lives and data. They’re particularly unwilling to part with information such as where they had travelled with the governments they live under, through tech companies.

Surprising differences in data

The reticence of Generation Z to part with their data too willingly shouldn’t be a surprise: they’ve grown up in the middle of some of the biggest changes to privacy and security in human memory, and have borne the full brunt of the successive scandals to blight the planet over the use of personal data. But what may come as a shock is the generation that most closely echoes the youngest users of social media in their wariness of personal data being used.

Baby boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964, may be a world away from the teenagers and young adults who typify Generation Z, but they seem to share a similar worldview when it comes to their willingness to part with their personal data. In fact, baby boomers are more sceptical of tech companies’ and governments’ ability to sensibly handle their data: 54% are highly uncomfortable passing on their location to the powers that be.

The remaining generations who run between the two extremes who happen to share similarities are more split. Millennials and Generation X, who are sandwiched between the two outriders, are also relatively unwilling to share their information – though the proportion outright against it is less than 50%, meaning that many people still have significant reservations about giving up everything they own for the convenience of modern technology.

COVID-19 changes everything

There are caveats to the conclusions, though. For one thing, factoring in how the location data in particular would be used does change the calculation for many people. When people are asked whether they’d be happy to share their location data in order to try and tackle the spread of the novel coronavirus, their perceptions change – and relatively significantly.

Across the generations, the proportion of people who would absolutely refuse to share their data with governments through tech companies drops by between five and seven percentage points if that information is being used in order to try and ensure the spread of coronavirus is slowed. We know that test and tracing systems are a vital component of the battle against the virus and the disease it causes, and it seems people have acknowledged there’s a purpose to giving up some of their information for the greater good, should they need to.

Whether that perception continues once the coronavirus is defeated, and life begins to return back to normal, is another question entirely. The likelihood of people being willing to fall back into their pre-covid approach of giving up their data willingly seems scarce. People have recognised the danger of letting tech companies have too much access to their vital information, and have been burned by the long shadow of Cambridge Analytica. Being judicious about who you share your personal data with seems to be the most practical solution to the problem.

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