Living online 

By Karen Herland

Young women are far more concerned about being targeted by marketing campaigns than about strangers learning about their activities, according to research designed by Leslie Regan Shade.

Shade, who joined the Communication Studies Department five years ago was one of the hosts of Michael Geist’s lecture. She is also aboard member of Media Action, who organized the study with the participation of Ekos Research Associates.

Ekos conducted focus groups across the country to get the opinions of 64 women between the ages of 14-24. The report revealed "there is a generational difference about how we conceive of privacy. In many instances, young women don't avail themselves of privacy tools." They also trust very basic settings to keep unwanted attention at bay.

A recent Globe and Mail article had a journalist confront a 17-year-old with information he collected through Google and her Facebook profile. He was able to find her address, phone numbers, employer and photos using fairly unsophisticated tools.

The women interviewed for Media Action were more concerned about how potential employers, parents or other authority figures might perceive them. They were careful to edit photos that made them look like out-of-control party animals, while still ensuring that they appeared popular and plugged in. Avoiding the site altogether was not an option. "If you're not on Facebook, you don't exist," according to one research subject.

The young women were concerned about surveillance-based marketing, which might target advertising to people who listed certain hobbies on their pages. Facebook acknowledges that information on a page may be used and shared without consent. "They are very aware of being targeted as a consumer population."

Shade, who teaches an undergraduate course on youth and media, wants to be able to discuss "the blurring of public and private" on social networking sites. She hoped to show students the privacy setting for classroom discussion but the current campus limitations on Facebook makes that difficult. The university has expressed concerns about online security problems related to Facebook use, although it is still available on campus through wireless networks.

"We need to use these tools because we talk and teach about these things." Shade would have liked faculty consultation on the issue before the the decision was made. She also thinks Facebook has potential as an organizing tool.


Concordia University