Do privacy and security regulations need a status update? Perspectives from an intergenerational survey

PLoS One. 2017 Sep 19;12(9):e0184525. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184525. eCollection 2017.


Background: The importance of health privacy protections in the era of the "Facebook Generation" has been called into question. The ease with which younger people share personal information about themselves has led to the assumption that they are less concerned than older generations about the privacy of their information, including health information. We explored whether survey respondents' views toward health privacy suggest that efforts to strengthen privacy protections as health information is moved online are unnecessary.

Methods: Using Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk), which is well-known for recruitment for survey research, we distributed a 45-item survey to individuals in the U.S. to assess their perspectives toward privacy and security of online and health information, social media behaviors, use of health and fitness devices, and demographic information.

Results: 1310 participants (mean age: 36 years, 50% female, 78% non-Hispanic white, 54% college graduates or higher) were categorized by generations: Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. In multivariate regression models, we found that generational cohort was an independent predictor of level of concern about privacy and security of both online and health information. Younger generations were significantly less likely to be concerned than older generations (all P < 0.05). Time spent online and social media use were not predictors of level of concern about privacy or security of online or health information (all P > 0.05).

Limitations: This study is limited by the non-representativeness of our sample.

Conclusions: Though Millennials reported lower levels of concern about privacy and security, this was not related to internet or social media behaviors, and majorities within all generations reported concern about both the privacy and security of their health information. Thus, there is no intergenerational imperative to relax privacy and security standards, and it would be advisable to take privacy and security of health information more seriously.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Computer Security* / standards
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Privacy*
  • Social Media
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

Funding for this study was provided by the Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine.