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Image: Death to the Stock Photo

Rob Callender writes: The teen years have traditionally been a time of insecurity, trial and error. Mistakes are made and secrets kept. Although a certain level of privacy during the teen years has always been a lifestage imperative, the digital age looked as if it would challenge that history. Privacy was dead, or so it was claimed. We now suspect that the Millennial years witnessed an “oversharing bubble” that undervalued the importance of privacy to teens. What’s more, we suspect that the value of privacy is now reverting to its long-term norm.

Millennials’ sharing bubble

Millennials’ teen years coincided with the ascent of Facebook — a platform that promised to test the concept of privacy to destruction. They seemed happy to join in the experiment. Was it the shock of the new? The appeal of self-promotion to a generation that seemed to believe celebrity was always just one lucky break away? Either way, Millennials eagerly shared a depth and breadth of information to the world that seemed unwise for the teen years.

Recently, however, there’s been a change in trend. Young people seem increasingly protective of their privacy, and if Millennials still love Facebook, young people are moving away from Facebook to smaller, more curated, more anonymous or closed-circuit options. According to a Bloomberg article that describes the phenomenon,

“compared with Twitter or Facebook, Snapchat can seem almost aggressively user-unfriendly. If you’re new to the app and looking for posts by your kid [or] your boyfriend… good luck. It’s hard to find somebody without knowing his or her screen name. This is by design.”

Teens_SocialSharing_TRU_16_TheFuturesCompanyEscaping from targetting

Perhaps in response to teens’ newfound reticence, Facebook has changed its terms of service to add more  privacy. Centennial teens are even requesting parents ask their children’s permission before sharing pictures of them on social media. And although The Futures Company advanced this pro-privacy argument when it was regarded as heresy, it’s since been picked up by a growing chorus of observers.

Many brands have built successful youth-outreach efforts by identifying their target’s top interests, as self-reported online. The result has been an invasion of outsiders into what young people one considered “private space”. If — as looks likely — young people are becoming more reticent about personal details, brands must be prepared for a leaner mix of such personal information. Why are young people changing their sharing habits? To escape the parents, grandparents, and, yes, the brands that followed them online.

Rob Callender is Director of Youth Insights at The Futures Company. A longer version of this post, including more of the research, can be found on Medium.

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