Teenagers' perceptions of online privacy and coping behaviors: a risk-benefit appraisal approach.

Author:Youn, Seounmi

The teen market is an attractive target for marketers because of its increasing size and spending power. According to a study by Teenage Research Unlimited (2004), the number of teenagers aged 12 to 19 in the United States will increase from 33 million in 2003 to a record high of 35 million in 2010. This study reported that this age bracket spent $175 billion, or an average of $103 per person per week, in 2003. These teenagers are also the first generation to grow up with the Internet in their daily lives. Cooper and Victory (2002) found that about 75% of 14- to 17-year-olds and 65% of 10- to 13-year-olds used the Internet in 2001. The eMarketer report estimated that U.S. teenagers would spend $1.3 billion online in 2002 (Day, 1999).

Since the Internet has become an ingrained part of teens' lives, online advertisers are directly marketing to them through interactive advertising and promotions (Friedman, 2000; Montgomery, 2001). Although the Internet offers teenagers great opportunities for entertainment, information, and marketplace exchange, some practices of interactive marketing have raised public concerns about harms the Internet allegedly poses to teenagers. One possible harm comes from online marketers' gathering and use of personal information. This has been an important topic in public policy due to teens' loss of privacy (Donnerstein, 2002; Montgomery & Pasnik, 1996). The protection of teens' privacy has received a considerable amount of attention from advocacy groups, the Federal Trade Commission, and Congress in recent years.

In an attempt to protect the online privacy of children, lawmakers enacted the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998. Web sites targeting children should require viewers to submit verifiable parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing any personal information from children tinder the age of 13 (Cai & Gantz, 2000). Congress also introduced the Children's Privacy Protection and Parental Empowerment Act of 1999, which requires that list brokers get parental consent prior to selling private information about children under the age of 16 to third parties (Klosek, 2000). To safeguard students' privacy from online advertisers in schools, Congress passed the Student Privacy Protection Act as an amendment to the education bill in 2000 (Aidman, 2000). This Act requires parental consent before a company can gather personal information for marketing purposes from any student under the age of 18 while they are on school property (Ruskin, 2001).

Despite growing concern and legislative activity, there have been few empirical studies examining what teens perceive online privacy to be and how they respond to marketers' information collection and use practices. In the past decade, numerous studies have explored adult consumers' attitudes about online privacy and discussed existing and possible future public policies to safeguard adult consumers' privacy (Cranor, Reagle, & Ackerman, 1999; Phelps, Nowak, & Ferrell, 2000; Sheehan & Hoy, 1999, 2000). Because teens differ from adults in their stage of cognitive development, it is important to conduct separate studies to determine their perceptions about online privacy and their coping behaviors. Understanding of teens' privacy concerns and their coping behaviors will assist policy makers and educators in establishing effective policies to protect their privacy rights.

This study utilized Rogers's (1975, 1983) protection motivation theory as a theoretical framework to explain teenagers' perceptions of privacy and their coping behaviors. Protection motivation theory contends that risk and benefit appraisals are important factors in explaining how an individual manages risky behavior. The major assumption of the theory is that the motivation to protect oneself from risk or harm increases when an individual feels risk or harm is likely to occur to him or her and when risk or harm is perceived to be severe. The theory also argues that protection motivation decreases when an individual believes that the benefits associated with risky behaviors outweigh the perceived risk. Rogers asserts that the motivation to protect oneself from risk should affect actual coping behaviors. In the theory, protection motivation is considered to be a mediating variable that explains the relationship between the risk-benefit appraisals and the coping behaviors (see Rogers, 1983, pp. 167-172).

Rogers's (1975, 1983) protection motivation theory explains the motivations for handling risk or harm. It is therefore useful to apply this theory to the online privacy context because providing information to a Web site involves a variety of risks. From this perspective, teens' willingness (or unwillingness) to give personal information would be the motivation to protect themselves from the risk or harm posed by privacy invasion. The components of risk and benefit appraisal are expected to affect teens' willingness to provide information, which, in turn, influences specific coping behaviors that protect their privacy rights. This study attempted to test these relationships using survey data collected from teenagers.

In this study, teenagers are referred to as children 13 and older. The reasons for studying teenagers from the age of 13 should be noted. Consumer advocates suggest that the COPPA rules should extend to teens 13 and older (Aidman, 2000), indicating concerns about the violation of teens' privacy rights. They argue that COPPA treats teens over 13 as adults because the Web sites do not ask them for verifiable parental consent before they collect information. However, a national survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center reported that teens aged 13 to 17, who are not covered by COPPA, were more open to providing their information to Web sites for an incentive than were children aged 10 to 12 (Turow & Nir, 2000). This study also found that 61% of parents expressed more concerns about 13- to 17-year-olds sharing information with Web sites than 10- to 12-year-olds. In response to these parents' and educators' concerns, it would be worthwhile to examine how teenagers 13 and over perceive online privacy and how they cope with this issue.

Literature Review

Teenagers, Marketing, and Online Privacy Concerns

Previous studies on children's knowledge and understanding of television advertising have suggested that as children approach 7 or 8 years old, they start to understand the persuasive intent of advertisers, recognize bias and deception in ads, and develop skepticism towards advertising in general (Blosser & Roberts, 1985; Robertson & Rossiter, 1974). Between the ages of 11 and 14, children showed an increase in cognitive defense against advertising and knowledge of specific advertising tactics, such as humor or celebrity endorsers (Boush, Friestad, & Rose, 1994). Based on findings in children's reactions to television advertising, a few recent studies have examined how children perceive and respond to online advertising. A primary research interest lies in examining whether previous findings in television advertising are replicated in online advertising. Both similarities and differences have been found between studies examining children's knowledge and understanding of television and online advertising.

In their study, Usability of Websites for Children, Gilutz and Nielsen (2002) analyzed how youngsters aged 5 to 11 navigate children's Web sites. They found that children did not distinguish between ads and content (Levy, 2002). Children were responsive to clicking on banner ads because they thought banner ads to be a part of the Web site information. Henke (1999, 2002) examined children's understanding of the persuasive intent of online advertising. In her first study, Henke (1999) reported that at age 9, children failed to understand the advertising purpose of company Web sites. However, in a follow-up study of the same age group, Henke (2002) found that children had the ability to recognize the persuasive intent of online advertising, pointing out that a lack of understanding in the first study was due to the novelty effect of Internet use at the time of the study. In her second study, 9-year-olds with more Internet experience showed ability to understand the persuasive intent of commercial Web sites and to differentiate the informational, entertainment, and persuasive roles of different types of Web sites (e.g., company, nonprofit, and government).

If 9-year-old children can identify the persuasive intent of online advertising, teenagers with higher levels of cognitive abilities and skills would be expected to have an even greater ability to distinguish online advertising from content and, therefore, be less influenced by online advertising. Several scholars have discussed role reversals in consumer socialization because children and teenagers are often more sophisticated than their parents when dealing with the Internet. In contrast to traditional parent-to-child socialization, Grossbart, McConnell, Pryor, and Yost (2002) examined reverse socialization in Internet use. In in-depth interviews with 18 mothers of children aged 7 to 16, they found that children affect parents' knowledge of Internet use and also use the Internet on their parents' behalf. This study suggested that older children, over the age of 11, are more likely to coach parents about Internet use than younger children.

Therefore, there is general agreement that today's teenagers are knowledgeable and literate with the Internet. However, despite teenagers' knowledge and expertise in Internet use, parents and advocates voice great concerns regarding the privacy loss of teenagers because of the interactive features of online marketing (Montgomery & Pasnik, 1996). Online marketers have incorporated interactive entertainment, such as games, contests, or sweepstakes, into their Web sites to attract teenagers' attention. Teenagers are more responsive than their...

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