Privacy and Reputation

[Last updated: May 2020]

Privacy and Reputation: The ability to protect one’s personal information online, and that of others. An understanding of the digital “trail” left behind as a result of the activities one engages in online, the short- and long-term consequences of this trail, the appropriate management of one’s virtual footprint, as well as an understanding of inferred data (i.e., new data derived from capturing and analyzing other data points, which may result in new knowledge about a person (van der Hof, 2016)).

How young people navigate the digital space increases both the importance and the challenge of addressing concerns about privacy in the world today. Research has captured the variety of popular social media platforms youth now use and the extensive amounts of information young people share about themselves. Being able to use many of these platforms simultaneously, enables youth to channel various aspects of themselves in creative expression, identity formation, and social experimentation — all relevant parts of youth life.

Contrary to popular assumptions, research suggests that youth very much care about, contemplate, and manage their privacy online. However, their conceptual understanding of privacy (while it continues to evolve) tends to be different from the one of adults. Rather than conceiving of privacy as a matter of institutional risks involving strangers and eager third parties, youth often view the concept as more of a social concern (“What can my friends see?”) and manage their privacy in relation to people they already know. Moreover, young people report learning about privacy largely on their own by way of searching for information or intuitively stumbling upon it.

Acknowledging that youth perceive and may learn about privacy differently than adults does not diminish adult concerns, many of which are valid. Today, digital information about young people is collected, stored, and searched at an unprecedented rate, no longer checked by laborious paper record-keeping or costly data storage. Neither youth nor their parents have control over how this information is handled by third parties, as data is frequently gathered, accessed, disclosed, copied, and sold without consent or knowledge. Meanwhile, online reputation has an increasingly large sway over a young person’s future social, academic, and professional prospects.

Main publications:

  • Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age (Chapter 2: Dossiers / Chapter 3: Privacy / Chapter 4: Protections)
  • Teens, Social Media, and Privacy. Flagship reports based on a collaboration between the Youth and Media team at the Berkman Klein Center and the Pew Research Center. The report presents data from a nationally representative survey as well as insights and quotes from focus groups.

Main efforts:

  • Urs Gasser is a Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School. Since 2013, he has taught at Harvard “Digital Privacy” from a global perspective. Each semester, several classes address questions of youth and digital privacy issues.

Key learning resources:

These learning resources are available in over 35 languages! To view the translations, for each resource, please scroll down to “All Languages.” Additional languages will be added over time.

To learn about how to navigate our Digital Citizenship+ (Plus) Resource Platform — home to an evolving collection of 100+ educational tools (e.g., learning experiences, visualizations, podcasts) that can be used to learn and teach about youth’s digitally connected lives — please see the following slidedeck, presented at RightsCon Tunis 2019. The presentation also offers helpful tips in terms of adapting the tools to your context.

Other publications:

In the media:

Selected presentations:

(For more information, please email Sandra Cortesi.)

  • July 2019: Keynote, “Youth, Personal Data, and Social Media”, VII International Conference for the Protection of Personal Data, organized by the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce, Cartagena, Colombia. Short interview available here.