Millennials, Trust and Internet Security

Millennials get labeled with many real and imagined stereotypes on a regular basis — but they’re not frequently accused of being trusting creatures. And when it comes to data security and Internet politics, one would expect millennials to wear their cynicism loudly and proudly.

But things aren’t nearly that simple. In some ways, millennials are less concerned about, and more trusting with, their sensitive data. On other fronts, they’re far more cynical than older generations — probably because they’re more likely to have grown up surrounded by technology and are therefore more conscientious about the inherent risks.

One thing is for certain: millennials help drive home the fact that security and accountability on the Internet are growing ever more complicated. The transfer of the world economy to a newer, younger generation, coupled with a viciously divided political climate and the relentless advancement of technology, means security is top of mind for the largest generation.

Millennials And Security, By The Numbers

The ever-reliable Gallup has some interesting numbers concerning millennials and their thoughts on data security. Here are the takeaways:

  • Millennials are generally more aware of potential data security risks than other generations, but are less likely to be concerned about them.
  • More than other generations, millennials are likely to trust businesses to keep their data secure.
  • Of the generations included in the data, millennials were the cohort least likely to trust social media companies with their personal data.

Still, other research paints a somewhat more cynical picture of young folks’ impressions of data security on the World Wide Web.

If the above survey provides a note of optimism, another study of millennials in the U.S. and the U.K. signaled a general erosion of trust, if that trust existed in the first place. In the survey, 70% of respondents indicated online privacy will only be further compromised in the coming years. It makes sense — after all, millennials stand to inherit a world more torn by conflict and mistrust than seemingly any other generation that came before.

If you’re getting the sense that millennials are at once surprisingly optimistic and hopelessly cynical about data security in our Internet-dependent world, you’re not far from the mark. It’s definitely complicated! It bears repeating that millennials are quite trusting of the companies they do business with: 80% of them have invested either “a lot” or “some” trust in their brands when it comes to data, including 67% who have “a lot of trust” in their primary financial institutions.

Turns out there are several reasons why millennials are so trusting with their data — as well as concerned about the future.

Why Millennials Trust (And When They Don’t)

The first, and perhaps most likely, reason is the mere fact that millennials grew up on technology. They’re more likely to be knowledgeable about how technology works and, consequently, how to tell when companies and other organizations aren’t taking the right precautions. Not too many millennials are tempted by the “Nigerian Prince” email scheme — they’re simply too savvy for that to work anymore. Same goes for security in general.

Another reason — and this one’s a bit more complicated — is a global political climate where corporations, particularly tech-savvy ones, move at a speed seemingly light-years ahead of any regulatory or government body. Millennials identify with the Elon Musks of the world because they see the bigger picture seemingly effortlessly, whereas most politicians only pretend at prognostication or having a working knowledge of technology.

Would you trust Steve Wozniak and Elon Musk with knowing how to store and personal data securely — or would you trust an unelected bureaucrat like Ajit Pai, who’s hacking away at the very foundation of free speech on the Internet? Would you trust a politician whose campaigns are bankrolled by Verizon or Time-Warner? Most folks — millennials included — are too smart for that now.

What’s at stake is nothing less than how we access information and keep it safe — and that cuts to the core of how we find jobs and remain employed, get work done, begin and maintain personal relationships, entertain ourselves, govern our nations and generally plan our waking lives. We are, all of us, digital creatures — and we need to live in a world where we’re certain that aspect of our lives is in good hands.

Millennials want an Internet they can trust. Don’t expect them to back down on this issue anytime soon.

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