Parents would rather see a daughter date a stranger met at a biker bar or a Star Trek convention than someone met over the Internet.
That's one of several surprising findings from a poll released Tuesday that reveals starkly different expectations of online privacy among 18- to 24-year-olds and their tech-savvy parents.
Of the 1,200 adults interviewed between Jan. 24 and Jan. 26, 31.9% rated a mate met online as the worst outcome for a daughter, followed closely by someone met in a bar (22.3%) and then a Trekkie (16.1%).
The poll was conducted by Zogby International on behalf of the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, which meets Wednesday in Washington, D.C., for its annual conference.
The poll found that 91% of Americans believe the Internet has changed privacy expectations, but it also reveals a broad gap between what 18- to 24-year-olds consider to be a breach of privacy and what older Americans see as an intrusion.
For example, among the 18- to 24-year-old-set, only 35.6% consider someone posting a picture of them in a swimsuit an invasion of privacy, compared with 65.6% of the older respondents.
Such suspicion seems peculiar given the respondents' professed absence of guile: Most of those surveyed say they don't use the Internet to look into the backgrounds of co-workers or potential dates. Only 5.9% say they'd searched online for information about a co-worker, and a mere 5% admitted to investigating a potential mate.
The disconnect between the MySpace generation and the older set is apparent in the younger set's willingness to embrace the Web as a social medium. But even as parents fret about the risks of Internet dating, today's youth are using it to extricate themselves from failed relationships. Some 45.4% of 18- to 24-year-olds say they or someone they know had broken up with someone using e-mail or a text message, compared with 7.6% among other age groups.
"We think that the study is really going to impact policy making in the future, but that's only if the new generation retains this privacy regime in their heads," says Danielle Yates, communications director for the Internet Caucus Advisory Committee.
Americans overall are cautious about when children should be allowed access to e-mail and social networking sites. Some 75% say children should wait until age 13 or more before getting access to e-mail; 45% put the age of access at 16 or older. And 65.6% want social networking sites restricted to those who are 16 or older.
Although 18- to 24-year-olds demonstrate greater comfort with the state of online privacy than other respondents, they're even more protective than older adults when it comes to how younger children should be allowed to interact online.
"We were very surprised to see that the younger generation seems to be more cautious than the older generation' when it comes to children online, says Yates. "To see them be so cautious about the younger generation is ironic."
Of course evident disinterest in personal privacy exhibited by 18- to 24-year-olds may be a product the survey questions as much as anything else. Those unconcerned by the prospect of someone posting a picture of them in a swimsuit might be more unnerved if asked, "Would you consider it an invasion of privacy if a convicted sex offender posted a picture of you in a swimsuit that linked to a Google Map of your home address?"