July 25, 2017 —

Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study, which examines the willingness of teens to give away personal information when incentivized.

What would it take for your teen to give away personal information? According to a new study: pizza.

A recent Daily Mail article examined a study conducted by MIT with their students. The results were surprising: College-educated teens who claimed to highly value privacy easily gave up their friend’s personal information in exchange for free pizza. 

Specifically, the study examined 3,108 MIT students: Half were incentivized by free pizza to share a friend’s email address, whereas the other half were given no incentive. Of students that were offered pizza, 98 percent gave away email addresses. However, perhaps even more alarming is the fact that 94 percent of students gave up friends’ email addresses without being offered pizza. 

The results of this study are a prime example of the privacy paradox. Teens claim they are highly concerned with privacy, yet easily offer up personal data when incentivized or – as this study shows – even when they aren’t incentivized. In a teen’s mind, the benefit of free pizza may outweigh the security breach of giving up something as common as an email address. The privacy concerns may also be diluted when a teen is faced with sharing the personal information of someone else. However, in a digital age when email addresses are linked to private data and online accounts, teens need to safeguard all information, no matter how trivial it may seem.

So, what can you do to ensure your teen considers privacy to be worth more than a slice of pizza?

  • Research potential scams. As digital parents, it is important for us to be aware of the current internet schemes are being used to gain information and access. Keeping up to date with the latest security risks will help you and your teen understand the gravity of protecting online security.
  • Educate your teen on the potential risks. Teens might not be concerned with sharing certain pieces of information because they don’t understand the potential implications. Hackers and others with malicious intentions can string together small pieces of information to gain access personal data. For example, an email address is half of the information needed to log into a Facebook account, which are often directly linked to payment apps. Reminding teens of the connected nature of their online accounts may make them think twice before sharing information.
  • Check security settings. App updates such as Snapchat maps, can lead to teens unknowingly sharing more personal information than intended. Encourage your teen to frequently check the privacy settings on their devices as well as within individual apps to ensure they aren’t sharing any sensitive information. Smartphones contain so much tracking technology and personal data, so teens need to be aware of the apps and other entities that can access the information they have stored on mobile devices.
  • Talk with your teen. Once you are aware of the current digital risks, have an open discussion about it with your teen. Ask your teen how they would feel if their friends gave away their email address or phone number. Remind them to treat other people’s privacy as they want others to treat their own privacy. Is one small free thing worth all the spam emails or worse?

As the digital world grows, so do the digital privacy threats. It is important we continue to educate and talk with our teens to keep them – and their friends – as safe online as they are offline. And remind them – their privacy is worth much more than free pizza or other appealing incentives that could be thrown their way.