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GRA school survey highlights privacy issues in social media age

The Gibraltar Regulatory Authority’s annual privacy report has found that despite a ‘moderately high’ awareness of privacy controls on social media, a third of local students do not use them.

The GRA carried out two surveys in 2019/2020, with the first aimed at students in school year 5 and another on school years 7, 9 and 11.

The surveys examined the relationship between the use of new digital technology and privacy matters, finding that 100% of students in years 7, 9 and 11 used social media.

Although the survey found that a “moderately high” percentage of students were aware of privacy controls, many had not sought to add these controls to their social media profiles.

In particular, the youngest students were less likely to use any privacy controls, which has highlighted the need for continued engagement and campaigns.

The eldest students were much more likely to use controls with 75% of year 7 students and 81% of year 9 and 11 using privacy controls on social media sites.

“This year there has been a noteworthy increase for all age groups in respect of the percentage of students who regularly or always use privacy controls on social networking sites [SNS],” the report said.

“The most significant increase, from 55% in 2018/19 to 75% this year, comes from the Year 7 students. The Commissioner considers the increased use of privacy controls to be a positive development.

"But having reviewed the survey results for the Year 5 students, the GRA found the younger age group was the least likely to use privacy controls when using social media, with 31% maintaining that they use privacy controls all the time whilst 18% use privacy controls regularly. Half of the Year 5 Students surveyed do not use controls.

“The Commissioner will continue to engage with the students through the annual Control Your Privacy campaign to provide guidance and encourage the use of such privacy controls,” the report said.

When online gaming, students of all ages tended to be more lax when it came to their privacy.

Despite those in the older age groups using privacy controls on social media platforms, privacy seemed to be less of a concern when online gaming.

“There is cause for concern in the number of students from each year group that are aware of such privacy controls but choose not to use them,” the report said.

“Over 30% of all Year 5, 9 and 11 students admit to knowing that privacy controls are available but do not use them.”

The survey also found a slight increase in the use of social media to post photos and videos, with 17% of year 7 students posting photos or videos online.

“Students who post photos or videos may end up sharing more information about themselves than they realise, especially if the photos or videos uploaded are of a personal nature, featuring themselves, friends or family members,” the report said.

For the sixth year running, Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp remained amongst the most popular social networking sites used by Year 7, 9 and 11 students, with 94% using WhatsApp.

New to this year’s survey is video sharing app ‘TikTok’ which almost half of students claimed to use, ranking just above Facebook.

The survey forms part of the Information Commissioner’s awareness raising programme for schools, conducted in cooperation with the Department of Education.

The GRA said that, through this annual survey, the Commissioner’s office is able to identify any key changes or behavioural trends in privacy practices amongst students in Gibraltar when using digital technology, particularly relating to social networking sites.

A total of 1421 students (725 males and 696 females) between the ages of 9 and 16 years took part in this year’s surveys, which were carried out between November 2019 and February 2020.

The survey also found that social media is used mostly for private messaging and its use grows as students get older and the number of year 7, 9 and 11 students that reveal information about others without their consent has decreased.

Youngsters use of security features such as a PIN to protect access to mobile devices
continues to increase and over a quarter of year 5 students who own a mobile device are unaware of permissions granted to mobile apps, including access to their personal data.

The survey also found younger students seek consent to install new apps on mobile devices.

“The Commissioner welcomes the slight improvements in privacy practices, which in turn may protect individuals from privacy-related risks, but some concerns remain,” the GRA said in a press statement.

“The continuous and increasing use of SNS demands that constant efforts are made in relation to raising privacy awareness. For this reason, it is appropriate and necessary to continue monitoring these user habits and to help the younger generations understand the importance of controlling their privacy.”

The full report is available to download online: https://www.gra.gi/data-protection/public-awareness