The number of youth who report that their accounts have been hacked has doubled from 15% to 30% since 2009 according to a new Associated Press-MTV poll. Of the teens with hacked accounts 72% say they knew who was spying on them, and 65% say they knew who had hacked them, and nearly half were upset by the invasions.
While many ‘hacks’ are simply friends taking an opportunity to tease someone that stepped away from their computer or phone for a moment, a significant number of account hijackings are deliberately malicious.
According to the poll, two-thirds of youth who have experienced hacking have subsequently taken steps to better protect themselves, by changing their passwords or changing their email address, screen name or phone number. Fully 25% said they have deleted a social networking profile.
The doubling of account hacking, hijacking, or intrusions in the past two years suggests that as a culture we have not yet instilled in youth (or adults?) the level of respect and privacy due to others online. That half of the kids who experienced hacking/spying were upset says makes it clear that at least half the time these hacks weren’t a joke – no matter what the intent may have been of the person who breached their accounts.
To illustrate this gap in ethical online behavior, look at these two questions from the Survey; you can see that the number of students who have considered the possible damage of acting out online has increased – but that consideration does not seem to have translated into better behavior – or we wouldn’t have seen a doubling of hacking and spying incidents.
Greater Awareness of Ethical and Criminal Concerns Needed
The discovery and abuse of someone’s password and account to damage their reputation, make a ‘joke’, deliberately cyberbully, or cause some other form of ‘drama’ is a common problem among youth today that needs to be addressed head on.
If you are parents, talk to your children, if you interact with minors talk with them. Help them understand that while discovering other people’s passwords or using their account when they’ve stepped away is often easy to do, but it is not acceptable. No matter whether a person’s password is so weak that it can be guessed in a matter of minutes, or the person shared their password, or they walked away from their computer without logging out of their accounts no one has the right to use their password or their account.
Youth – and adults – need to recognize there is a big difference in being able to discover a password or access an account and having the right to use it. In fact, using someone else’s account can carry real criminal penalties as more than a few youth are discovering.
For example, In California the penal code says “Every person who willfully obtains personal identifying information… of another person, and uses that information for any unlawful purpose . . . without the consent of that person, is guilty of a public offense, and upon conviction . . . shall be punished by a fine, by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both a fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the state prison.”
The law also defines what it means by personal identifying information. It includes “any name, address, telephone number… state or federal driver’s license, or identification number, social security number…PIN (personal identification number) or password…” and much more.
California is far from the only state bringing more stringent laws to bear on cases of account abuse, and ever more states are stepping up on this issue. If youth – and adults – can’t act ethically for decency’s sake, perhaps the legal deterrent will be a motivator.