I can remember when the first hand-held video games came out. Mattel released Auto Race in 1976 and then shortly thereafter, Mattel Football. The little red lights flashing statically across the screen and the little beeps of sound…those were ‘the days.” Atari and Nintendo were the hot items for a while, but if you were to put one of those devices in the hands of a teen today, they would think you were crazy.
Generation Z, kids born in or after 1997, has no idea what life was like prior to the many streaming devices, online games, and plethora of social media platforms available to them today. These are the people who have never known life without the internet. And I will be the first to admit, I have become quite accustomed to the ease and quickness with which I can use these platforms. Some of them really do make my life easier. If I need to know the weather in Bangladesh at 3:23, all I have to do is “Google it’ or ask Siri.
But there is a downside to these elevated levels of technology. Researchers are now concerned that today’s teens are totally unaware of all the personal data on their apps that they leave open and available for someone to misuse. Because social media networks rely largely on advertising for revenue, they collect and share personal identifiable information (PII) in order to attract and keep their users. Even if the user decides to delete their social media account, their data is still there in the form of posts and tags. And if the platform does allow the user to scrub their data, it still doesn’t mean that it is safe. It could have already been shared across the web and the user would never know.
As we download more and more apps to our devices, we continue to open ourselves up to more and more risks. When was the last time you actually read the terms for an app you downloaded? Honestly, I never do. But even if I did, with each app being a bit different from the others, how could anyone keep up with all of the different data policies? It is virtually impossible. And since we do most everything electronically now, medical records, finances, and any personal data can be compromised by online hackers.
Because today’s teens have never known a world without data sharing, they have a false sense of security that has to be addressed. We could add more controls, but really, education is probably more important. In fact, education is key.