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Teens keep online profiles private

Turns out it isn't just parents, politicians, and lawyers worrying about teen safety online. The majority of teens themselves actively manage their online profiles to keep the information they believe is most sensitive away from the unwanted gaze of strangers, parents and other adults.

According to a report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 55 percent of online teens have social network profiles and restrict access to them in some way.

Of those with profiles, 66 percent say their profile is not visible to all Internet users. While many teens publicly post their first name and photos, they rarely publicly post information they believe strangers could use to locate them. Most teens leave off their full name, home phone number or cell phone number, for example.

Why? Perhaps because they are more Web-savvy and aware of of threats to their safety, according to the survey. Sixty-three percent of teens with profiles said they believe that a "motivated" person could eventually identify them from the information they publicly provide on their profiles.

Teens realize that in some ways they are more accessible when they are online, according to Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet Project who co-authored the report.

"They try to strike a balance between being safe from strangers and keeping things private from their parents and other adults, while at the same time sharing enough information that allows them to socialize with friends and perhaps even make new friends."

Even before Pew's report, evidence suggested social network users were more vigilant that public worriers supposed. Facebook users -- not their parents -- were the first with protests over a Facebook redesign last fall, which they felt left their information too exposed. More than 580,000 members joined one particular protest group on the day of the changes. Facebook soon responded with new privacy preferences.

Public concern over the safety of teens who use social networks such as MySpace and Facebook is widespread. In September 2006, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined the social networking site $1 million over alleged violations of the Children's Online Privacy Act (COPPA). The FTC said Xanga and its principals, Marc Ginsburg and John Hiller, collected, used and disclosed personal information from children under the age of 13 without first notifying parents and obtaining their consent.

In March, lawyers for a Texas minor who alleged she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old she met on filed new appeals in their case against the social network. Their first suit had been dismissed by a Judge who held the minor's parents responsible.

Report co-author and senior research specialist Mary Madden said parental fears over teen activities online are nothing new.

"In our first study of teen Internet usage in 2000, well before social networking sites emerged, many parents were worried that strangers would contact their children online through email and chat rooms," Maddon said in a statement.

"At the time, parents responded to these worries by taking precautions such as monitoring their child's Internet use and placing the computer in a public area of the home – much as they do today."

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