Children's Privacy Online
Experimenting with Boundaries Within
and Beyond the Family
The Internet is playing an ever-greater role in the economy, in the workplace, in education, and in our private lives. This still-diversifying bundle of technologies—including e-mail, the World Wide Web, Intranets, multiplayer games, message boards, and so forth—increasingly mediates communication, information, organization, entertainment, learning, and commerce on a global as well as a local scale. Across many industrialized countries, recent years have witnessed a rapid expansion in the domestic market as well as a significant educational market for the Internet: recent figures in the United Kingdom put domestic access at 55%, though figures for households with children are considerably higher (Office of National Statistics, 2005). The rate of Internet diffusion in the United States is such that it took just 7 years to reach 30% of households, a level of penetration that took 17 years for television and 38 years for the telephone (Rice, 2002).
What are the consequences of Internet access and use for the social practices, relations, and contexts of everyday life? One line of speculation concerns the supposed blurring of a series of traditionally important distinctions in society— between work and leisure, public and private, education and entertainment, citizenship and consumerism, local and global, print and visual culture, and so forth. This chapter focuses on children and young people—a segment of society associated with perhaps the most speculation but only recently with a body of research (Livingstone, 2003)—and it explores their use of the Internet in relation to one of these distinctions—the relation between public and private.
Drawing mainly on the findings of an in-depth ethnographic-style project exploring children and young people's use of the Internet at home, supplemented with material from focus group interviews with children (Livingstone and Bober, 2003, 2005), this chapter focuses particularly on the experiences and practices of privacy in everyday life. Although in principle privacy is valued and protected in society, in historical and social terms children's privacy is increasingly restricted. It is argued that the media—especially the Internet—provide some key opportunities for privacy, yet policy initiatives designed to keep children safe online are (for good reasons) constraining even these opportunities. Findings reveal how children and young people understand and exercise their notions of privacy, including the range of everyday tactics by which children micromanage their privacy online.