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Teenagers may be sharing too much information online

What McAfee found was that regardless of the fact that today’s teenager has grown up fully immersed in the digital age, many continue to share personal information with strangers online in spite of being aware of the inherent risks.

McAfee commissioned the survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive in May of this year. The study polled 955 US teens between the ages of 13 and 17, including a subset of 362 in the 16–17 age range. Titled “The Secret Online Lives of Teens”, a report on the polling results revealed that 51% of teens provided some type of personal information to a person they did not know offline.

Perhaps even more alarming was that 69% of the 13–17 year old respondents said they provided a status update for a social networking website account that detailed their physical location. A further 28% engaged in chats with complete strangers they had never met.

The McAfee survey also indicates that teenage girls may be particularly at risk when it comes to sharing information online. The girls polled for the study said they were more likely to chat with strangers online (32% vs. 24%), and they provided personal descriptions of themselves more than twice as often (16% vs. 7%).

Possible reasons for this trend, said McAfee, is that girls tend to be more active communicators, and they are slightly more likely to have at least one social networking account.

Teenagers are also quite sneaky when it comes to covering up online activity, according to the report. By the age of 16 to 17, a majority of teens (56%) said they engage in some form of concealment, including minimizing browsers when parents are near, wiping clear text messages from devices, and erasing browser history.

The implications for physical hardware security are also apparent, as 27% of teens surveyed for the McAfee study admitted to infecting a home computer with malware or a virus.

While infections caused by teenagers may be even higher for family computers, the possible culprits are quite obvious: 45% of boys 16–17 said they downloaded X-rated material, while 46% of all the teenagers polled said they downloaded some form of media from a free service (up from 28% in a similar McAfee survey from 2008).

Infecting household computers, however, may be only part of the story, as teenagers are increasingly likely to access the internet outside of their parents’ reach. The study found that 87% of teens go online in places other than the home, with 30% logging on via smartphones.

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