August 22, 2013

Teens and Mobile Apps Privacy

58% of American teens have downloaded an app to a cell phone or tablet

More than half of teen apps users have avoided an app due to concerns about sharing their personal information; girls are especially likely to take steps to protect their location data

WASHINGTON—As teens gain access to mobile devices, they have embraced app downloading. But many teen apps users have taken steps to uninstall or avoid apps over concern about their privacy. Location information is considered especially sensitive to teen girls, as a majority of them have disabled location tracking features on cell phones and in apps because they are worried about others’ access to that information.

Here are some of the key findings in a new survey of U.S. teens ages 12-17:

  • 58% of all teens have downloaded apps to their cell phone or tablet computer.
  • 51% of teen apps users have avoided certain apps due to privacy concerns.
  • 26% of teen apps users have uninstalled an app because they learned it was collecting personal information that they didn’t wish to share.
  • 46% of teen apps users have turned off location tracking features on their cell phone or in an app because they were worried about the privacy of their information.

In focus group discussions with teens, participants said they primarily downloaded social media and game apps to their phones and tablets, though they also downloaded apps relating to music, news, and the weather. When choosing which apps to download, participants stated that they typically downloaded free ones.

Survey data suggests that some of these activities vary significantly by gender. Boys stand out as the most active app downloaders, but girls are the most likely to disable location tracking features on their phones and in apps.

  • Boys who are mobile device owners are more likely than girls to say that they have downloaded an app to their cell phone or tablet computer (79% vs. 62%).
  • Among teen apps users, girls are considerably more likely than boys to say that they have disabled location tracking features (59% vs. 37%).

“Teens are on the front lines of figuring out the complex world of privacy management of on their mobile devices,” said Mary Madden, Senior Researcher for the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and lead author of the report. “They realize that cell phones can be used to monitor their whereabouts, and they will avoid apps if they feel like the data requests are unnecessary or excessive.”

Half (51%) of teen apps users say that they have decided not to install a cell phone or tablet app after they found out they would have to share personal information in order to use it. Younger teen apps users ages 12-13 are more likely than older teen apps users 14-17 to say that they have avoided apps due to concerns about personal information sharing (56% vs. 49%).

This report is the fifth in a series of reports issued in collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard.

About the survey

These findings are based on a nationally representative phone survey of 802 parents and their 802 teens ages 12-17. It was conducted between July 26 and September 30, 2012. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish and on landline and cell phones. The margin of error for the full sample is ± 4.5 percentage points. In collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, this report also includes insights and quotes gathered through a series of in-person focus group interviews about privacy and digital media, with a focus on social networking sites (in particular Facebook), conducted by the Berkman Center’s Youth and Media Project between February and April 2013. The team conducted 24 focus group interviews with a total of 156 participants across the greater Boston area, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara (California), and Greensboro (North Carolina).

About the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the Internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the Internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the Internet and how their activities affect their lives.

About the Berkman Center for Internet & Society

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is a research program founded to recognize, study, and engage the most difficult problems of the digital age and to share in their resolution in ways that advance the public interest. Founded in 1997, through a generous gift from Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman, the Center is home to an ever-growing community of faculty, fellows, staff, and affiliates. Fundamental to its work is the study of the relationship between digital technologies and democratic values, including civic participation, access to knowledge, and the free flow of information. More information can be found at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu.

Media contact

Mary Madden: mmadden@pewinternet.org and 202-419-4515