The lack of knowledge about the law, coupled with an online environment that encourages people to share personal information, might be one reason young people can seem careless about privacy, according to the study, which was conducted in July 2009 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

There is also some evidence that, by virtue of their age, adolescents’ and young adults’ brains are hard-wired toward risky behavior, the report said, citing past psychological studies.

The researchers suggest that lawmakers and educators should not assume that young adults do not care about privacy and therefore don’t need protections.

Rather, they say, “policy discussions should acknowledge that the current business environment … sometimes encourages young adults to release personal data in order to enjoy social inclusion, even while in their most rational moments they may espouse more conservative norms.”

Despite the study’s findings, there are still young people who are prolifically posting photos of their beer-guzzling, scantily clad selves.

“But there is not enough research to find out [whether] older people do the same thing,” said Joseph Turow, professor at Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication. “Older adults, they may not show up naked, but they may be releasing other kinds of [personal] information.”


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