Millennials Most Trusting on Safety of Personal Information
Economy

Millennials Most Trusting on Safety of Personal Information

by John Fleming

Story Highlights

  • 44% of U.S. millennials say their information is kept private
  • Traditionalists least likely to say companies keep info safe
  • Various hypotheses for why millennials have this trust level

PRINCETON, N.J. -- In spite of high-visibility data breaches, 44% of millennials in the United States believe that their personal information is kept private "all" or "most of the time" by the businesses or companies they do business with. This is the highest of all major U.S. generational groups.

Belief That Businesses Are Keeping Personal Information Private, by Age Group, February-March 2015

Just over a quarter of millennials (26%) believe that their personal information is kept private "little" or "none of the time," while the remaining 30% believe it is kept private "some of the time."

On the other end of the age spectrum, the most skeptical generation is traditionalists, Americans aged 70 and older. Twenty-nine percent of traditionalists believe that their personal information is kept private all or most of the time, while just over a third (35%) believe it is kept private a little or none of the time, making this the only generation to have a higher rate of distrust than trust. Thirty-six percent say it is kept private some of the time. Generation X and baby boomers fall in between these two groups, suggesting that expectations of personal privacy are age-related.

Overall, 36% of Americans believe their personal information is kept private all or most of the time, with 31% saying it is kept private little or none of the time. A third (34%) say it is kept private some of the time.

Millennials Defy Expectations for Their Generation

There is a school of thought about millennials and privacy suggesting that because millennials have never known a world without smartphones, apps, the Internet or computers -- and the inherent risks to privacy these things pose -- they should have lower expectations about the security of their personal information than other generations do. This is because, the thinking goes, everything is available online these days, and even information that is not easily accessible is increasingly vulnerable to hackers. But another perspective argues just the opposite. To its adherents, millennials should actually have higher expectations about the security of their personal information than other generations because they understand how technology works and are fully aware of the inherent risks, but believe technology will keep their personal information safe.

Finally, there is a slightly different version of the latter hypothesis. According to this perspective, millennials should actually have higher expectations than other generations about the security of their personal information simply because they are naïve in the ways of the world -- they have no experience to make them think otherwise. In other words, millennials have the least life experience of all generations. A corollary of this view is that members of the oldest generation -- traditionalists -- should not only have the greatest life experience (and be more jaded or cynical as a result) but the lowest expectations of personal privacy.

Implications

In spite of the oft-heard refrain that millennials are not trusting, these results suggest that in some cases -- particularly where the privacy of personal information is concerned -- millennials are fairly trusting, at least more trusting than skeptical. Whether this effect is simply the result of life experience and youth, or some other combination of factors, remains to be determined. In recent years, millennials (as well as all other generations) have been exposed to a significant number of high-visibility data breaches. Knowledge of these breaches alone would likely make people question the privacy and security of their online personal information. But millennials seem to rise above this, remaining trusting in the face of an abundance of evidence that their online data may not be very secure.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 23-March 3, 2015, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,525 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±2.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For comparisons between or within the total sample for each generation, the margin of sampling error is ±5.9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Daily works.

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