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BizReport : Internet : June 23, 2010

McAfee research reveals teens' secret online lives

Children are leading secret lives online, according to new research from McAfee, with many deceiving their parents at home or leaving the house to log on. This is a report that all parents need to read.

by Helen Leggatt

mcafee logo.gifRecent research from Pew Internet found young adults (aged 18 to 29) were more responsible than their elders when it came to online privacy. New research, this time from McAfee, found the behavior of teens (aged 13 to 17) leaves them susceptible.

McAfee calls their report (.pdf), "The Secret Online Lives of Teens", a "wake-up call" for parents. It found nearly half of online teens have shared personal information with people they don't know. It appears the Internet gives youngsters a false sense of security, coupled with anonymity, which leads them to give out information to virtual strangers that they wouldn't dream of doing in real life.

For example:-

- 69% of 13-17 year olds have included their physical location in a social networking status update

- 43% shared their first name

- 28% chatted with people they don't know in the offline world

- 24% shared their email address

- 18% shared a personal photo of themselves

- 12% shared their mobile phone number

Perhaps most worrying is the survey showed teens are hiding what they do online from their parents.

Many teens hide their online activity at home or are going online outside the house. In fact, McAfee found a whopping 87% of teens go online somewhere other than at home while over half (54%) access the Internet at a friends' or relatives' house.

Even when using the Internet at home there are obviously some things that teens would rather their parents did not see and over half (55%) hide what they do online from their parents.

These tech-savvy kids often know more about how to "manage" online history than their parents. Many teens close or minimize the browser when their parents enter the room (38%) and some (32%) clear the browser history before logging off.

"Keeping kids safe no longer only means teaching them about the dangers of alcohol or how to deal with a school bully," said McAfee's Tracy Mooney. "This report is a wake-up call to the real dangers our teens face when they make themselves vulnerable online. As a mom, it worries me that kids aren't practicing safe 'street smarts' when they're online."

And it's not just the kids that are put at risk by their online behavior. Over a quarter (27%) had compromised the security of their home computer by downloading malware.

Tags: childrens online behavior, cyberbullying, Internet use, online privacy, social networking

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