Do Gen Z-ers (individuals age 8 to 22) think and behave differently towards technology than previous generations? Specifically, are their attitudes and digital habits around privacy and security different from Millennials (age 23 to 35),1 who grew up with less technology? What about compared to Gen X-ers (age 36 to 55)? When F5 Labs was approached about hosting a research internship for three high school seniors, we realized it was the perfect opportunity to discover how Gen Z-ers use the Internet and think about cybersecurity and online privacy. After giving the interns a crash course in how to write unbiased survey questions, we crossed our fingers and hoped that after distributing them to their peers, classmates, friends, family, and other associates, we’d get a significant number of responses to analyze results.
Fast forward—the results are in!
- No matter the age, digital habits did not differ significantly across generations; where one generation practiced safety online, the others did, as well.
- Thirty-one percent of Millennials and Gen X-ers said they always consider the impact of things they post online compared to only 19% of Gen Z-ers.
- While the majority of respondents in every age group said they wanted more privacy online, it’s notable that nearly 20% of Gen Z-ers said they did not want more privacy online.
- The realization that nothing or almost nothing is private online increases with age (68% for Gen Z, 73% for Millennials, and 86% for Gen X).
- Ironically, nearly 60% of Gen Z-ers, the generation known for having been “brought up” on technology, said they have not received education about safety online.
- Increased education is paramount in bettering digital habits across the board. As people get older, they are likely to see some form of formal education in a workplace or university, but it is important that as people grow up with more technology around them, they get this education at a younger age.
Who We Surveyed and Why
To understand the mindset and digital habits of Gen Z-ers, we broke the 50-question survey into five sections: Demographics, Digital/ Cybersecurity Habits, Social Media Use, Privacy Habits, and Password Habits. We asked a variety of questions, some to provide context and others (opinion-based questions) to further quantify the knowledge-based questions. No questions required a write-in answer, although some provided that option.
Over 700 individuals responded to the survey, however, with the constraints and limitations placed on the data (see the Methodology section), about 520 responses were used. We did not use any data from individuals under 18, however there has been other research conducted on children’s password habits, which indicate that children tend to use age appropriate words and phrases in creating and maintaining passwords.2
The gender distribution was fairly even, with 49.42% of respondents identifying as male, 47.49% identifying as female, and 3.09% identifying as non-binary.
The age distribution from all survey respondents was fairly consistent across target categories (Gen Z and Millennials). When controlling for the responses that could be used for publishing,3 the age distribution remained consistent, with Millennial and Gen Z participation much higher than Gen X, which can be seen in Table 1.
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Table 1. Age distribution, controlled for eligible respondents
Across the U.S., all regions were represented fairly equally. Although the intern team was based in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest region did not dominate the results; in fact, respondents from 44 different states (and Washington, DC) and 28 different countries are represented.
What Respondents Shared with Us
We asked survey participants about everything from their password habits, browser privacy settings, and social media practices to concerns about hackers, targeted email marketing, facial recognition software, and IOT devices capable of eavesdropping. We’ll cover some of their answers in Part 2 of this article series; below we look at responses to some of the more basic questions we asked.
“How Tech Savvy Are You?”
A majority of Gen Z participants considered themselves fairly tech savvy, with 64.46% stating they could troubleshoot and solve problems and understood how computers work. Breaking that out further, both Gen Z-ers and Millennials answered almost equally that they were tech savvy enough, not just to troubleshoot but also to fix minor computer issues. More Millennials 28% were confident in their computer programming skills than Gen Z-ers, at 24%. These responses were not entirely surprising, given that some Millennials and Gen X-ers may have had career or academic opportunities to learn and develop these skills.
Notably, although the majority of participants of this survey rated themselves as tech savvy, many did not always consider the impact of the content they post online. The team anticipated a big difference between responses from Millennials and Gen Z on this question, but the difference was not as significant as expected. Thirty-one percent of Millennials said they “Always” consider the impact of the things they post online, compared to 19% for Gen Z-ers. Thirty-eight percent of Millennials said they “Mostly” think about the impact, compared to 32% of Gen Z-ers. About a quarter of all three groups said they were only “Sometimes” concerned with the impact of content they post online.