Youth, Privacy and Reputation (Literature Review)

86 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2010 Last revised: 27 Oct 2010

See all articles by Alice E. Marwick

Alice E. Marwick

Data & Society Research Institute

Diego Murgia-Diaz

Harvard University, Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Harvard Law School

John G. Palfrey

Harvard Law School


Many adults worry about children and teenagers’ online privacy, predominantly due to a perception that youth put themselves at risk for harassment and solicitation by revealing personal information, usually to marketers or on social networking sites (Aidman 2000; Giffen 2008; Read 2006). First, commercial websites and advertising networks are said to manipulate children into providing personal data which is bought, sold, and used for monetary gain (Cai & Gantz 2000; Montgomery & Pasnik 1996; Moscardelli & Liston-Heyes 2004; Youn 2009). Second, recent privacy worries are centered around secrecy, access, and the risks that “public living” on sites like Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube poses from educational institutions, future employers, pedophiles, and child pornographers (Palfrey et al. 2008; Lenhart & Madden 2007; Youn 2009). These concerns can translate to blaming youth for their carelessness, with the frequently-cited maxim that “youth don’t care about privacy” (Kornblum 2007; Nussbaum 2007; Moscardelli & Liston-Heyes 2004). At the same time that youth are castigated for their openness, children and teenagers are under increasing surveillance at home and school, facilitated by Internet filters, mobile phones, and other monitoring technologies (Berson & Berson, 2006; Hope, 2005).

Often, young people are viewed on one side of a generational divide (Herring 2008). “Millennials” or “digital natives” are portrayed as more comfortable with digital technologies and as having significantly different behaviors than their “digital immigrant” parents (Palfrey & Gasser 2008; Solove 2008; N. Howe & Strauss 2000). There is a risk of this discourse exoticizing the experience of young people from an adult perspective, given the fact that adults perform most of the research on young people, create the technologies that young people use, and produce media commentary on children and teenagers (Herring 2008). Much of the popular media’s commentary on young people lumps children and teenagers together using a “generational” rhetoric that flattens the diverse experiences of young people in different contexts, countries, class positions and traditions.

For many of today’s young people, peer socialization, flirting, gossiping, relationship-building, and “hanging out” takes place online (boyd 2008; Ito et al. 2008; Herring 2008). Young people primarily use online technologies to talk with people they already know. Sharing information through social network sites or instant messenger reinforces bonds of trust within peer groups. The idea of two distinct spheres, of the “public” and the “private,” is in many ways an outdated concept to today’s young people. Much of the studies of privacy online focus on risk, rather than understanding the necessity of private spaces for young people where they can socialize away from the watching eyes of parents or teachers. These seeming contradictions demonstrate how understandings of risk, public space, private information, and the role of the Internet in day-today life differ between children, teenagers, parents, teachers, journalists, and scholars.

The scope of this literature review is to map out what is currently understood about the intersections of youth, reputation, and privacy online, focusing on youth attitudes and practices. We summarize both key empirical studies from quantitative and qualitative perspectives and the legal issues involved in regulating privacy and reputation. This project includes studies of children, teenagers, and younger college students. For the purposes of this document, we use “teenagers” or “adolescents” to refer to young people ages 13-19; children are considered to be 0-12 years old. However, due to a lack of large-scale empirical research on this topic, and the prevalence of empirical studies on college students, we selectively included studies that discussed age or included age as a variable. Due to language issues, the majority of this literature covers the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada.

Suggested Citation

Marwick, Alice E. and Murgia-Diaz, Diego and Palfrey, John G., Youth, Privacy and Reputation (Literature Review). Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2010-5, Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 10-29, Available at SSRN:

Alice E. Marwick

Data & Society Research Institute ( email )

36 West 20th Street
11th Floor
New York,, NY 10011
United States


Diego Murgia-Diaz

Harvard University, Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Harvard Law School ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

John G. Palfrey (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1545 Massachusetts Avenue
Areeda Hall 511
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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