About 25 percent of millennials say they are OK with trading some personal information in exchange for more relevant advertising, versus 19 percent for people 35 and older, according to a study this year by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future and consulting firm Bovitz Inc. And 51 percent of millennials – compared with 40 percent of those 35 and older – say they are willing to share information with companies as long as they get something in return.
Vendors report similar patterns
Online and mobile providers report customer behavior that reflects these statistics. BillGuard, a personal finance security service based in New York, helps consumers find suspicious credit and debit card charges by scanning their account data. When applicants fill out information on the website, many abandon the process when they get to the page asking for bank and credit card account log-in credentials. Trusting a third party with this information is, it seems, just too much to ask of some users.
That said, BillGuard's data shows millennials are much more likely to provide log-in credentials: Only 30 percent abandon the process at that page, compared with a 45-percent average for all users, says Yaron Samid, CEO at BillGuard. The oldest users have about a 60-percent drop-off rate.
"It's a testament to the younger crowd feeling more comfortable," Samid says. "There is a tendency to have less risk aversion if you are younger and grew up on the Internet."
51 percent of millennials – compared with 40 percent of those 35 and older – say they are willing to share information with companies as long as they get something in return.
Because of this higher risk tolerance, millennials are also a retailer's dream. Fifty six percent of them said they would be willing to share their location with companies in order to receive coupons or deals for nearby businesses, compared with 42 percent of users 35 and older, according to the USC-Bovitz study.
Millennials still worry
But millennials respond more like other generations when asked specifically about privacy. About 70 percent of millennials agreed with the statement, "No one should ever be allowed to have access to my personal data or web behavior," according to the USC-Bovitz report. For those older than 35, 77 percent agreed, showing little difference among generations.
Other studies show an even higher wariness about privacy among millennials worldwide. Approximately 91 percent are concerned about their data and information online, according to a survey of 12,000 millennials in 27 countries by the Financial Times and Telephonica, a Madrid-based communications company. About 95 percent believe greater security measures should be put in place to protect their online identities.
In fact, millennials may be technologically savvier when it comes to protecting their personal information, giving them a distinct advantage over older generations in terms of control over their privacy. An obvious example is the unawareness among some older users of Facebook regarding how to control their privacy settings.
Yet another illustration of this concept, notes Samantha Leland, policy director at Safe Shepherd, an online privacy protection service based in San Francisco, is the case of a grandmother who has never touched a computer but nonetheless has her name, address, phone number, nearest relative, age and other statistics online in the white pages and other information aggregators.
"It looks like millennials are giving out a lot more personal information," Leland says. "But they are actually much more discriminating about it."
In fact, millennials may be technologically savvier when it comes to protecting their personal information, giving them a distinct advantage over older generations in terms of control over their privacy.
Safe Shepherd — started by millennials — represents a growing industry that is looking to make people more private. The service gives its users a snapshot of their Web presence and alerts them to personal data they have on the Internet that might be of concern. Users receive a "safety score," and Safe Shepherd works to scrub the data from websites, charging a subscription fee to regularly monitor the Internet.
Privacy for a price
Despite substantial differences, there's a common thread among all generations when it comes to privacy, notes Samid: People will exchange privacy for value. In the case of BillGuard, participants trade account information for a service that aggregates it all to unearth suspicious charges. As Samid points out, however, the value offered in exchange for private information must be significant for such a trade to occur.
And when it comes to measuring that value and declining to trade when it's not worth it, millennials might be onto something.
"We hope that the more people talk about privacy, the better educated they will become and the better they can make their own decision rather than just trusting various companies," Leland says.