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The Private Life of Generation Z

Generation Z, those born after 1997, are the canaries in the coal mine of privacy.

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  • Hong Kong

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As part of a recent study into the lives of Asia’s Generation Z, we sought to understand how Gen Z approach privacy, technology and creativity. 500 young Hongkongers told us their approach to, and fears of privacy.

In this article we unpick and understand the complex relationship young Hongkongers have with data, privacy and their online identities.

Read the full article below.

The Private life Generation Z

Generation Z, those born after 1997, are the canaries in the coal mine of privacy. Unlike their Millennial cousins, they have no experience, or even conception, of a life lived outside of big tech corporations and their vast extraction of personal data.

They have implicitly accepted that personal data is a currency that can be created, protected and traded. This places their privacy firmly in their own hands. They don’t cling to the notion of social media as a source of good (or of evil), but an inseparable reality of life; something to be managed and exploited for personal gain. They’ve embraced and channelled this power into a source of expression, creativity, intimacy and belonging.

As part of a recent study into the lives of Asia’s Generation Z, we sought to understand how Gen Z approach privacy, technology and creativity. 500 young Hongkongers told us their approach to, and fears of privacy.

Gen Z like and share with open eyes. Conscious that they’re not painting an entirely accurate portrait, but aware that it won’t be critiqued for accuracy, but authenticity.

Seven in ten young people state that social media shows an authentic representation of who they are. Authenticity, in this instance being a highly engaging version of themselves. The result is a kaleidoscope of personality and originality across digital platforms.

58% of Hong Kong youth say their friends are more creative than professional artists, and 77% say they’d rather look at pictures of their friends than celebrities.

Authenticity also, unlike accuracy, has many faces. Your authentic self on TikTok, is very different to your authentic self on Telegram which is very different to your authentic self on Twitch.

Which is why, in large part, the Faustian bargain in which Millennials reluctantly surrender data for access or privacy for convenience, is felt less painfully for Gen Z. In living multiple lives across multiple platforms there’s no one complete portrait. Therefore, they are happy for just one of their lives to be the means to Mark Zuckerberg’s commercial end.

That’s not to say they don’t worry about online privacy. On the contrary, nine in ten are concerned about their privacy on social media sites.

At a Glance
58%

of Hong Kong youth say their friends are more creative than professional artists

Gen Z navigate concerns around privacy by erecting Chinese walls between their separate lives.

Millennials like myself think in binary terms about privacy; public or private; publish or conceal; hot or not. But, as a result of greater awareness and control, the Gen Z interpretation of privacy is more considered and more complex.

They recognise that social media is not just the domain of friends. It’s also the domain of the prying eyes of family, employers, corporations and the state. Two-thirds (64%) worry about what future employers and parents might think of their social media posts.

They combat this threat through a combination concealment and compartmentalisation. Two-thirds say they prefer to use an Avatar on social media rather than their real identity (65%). Many more are seeking safe spaces with tightly a curated and controlled community.


Where once solitude, anonymity and intimacy was in the physical world, for Gen Z, it is sought online.

Writing in a pre-Facebook era (pre-Zuckerberg era for that matter) the law professor, Alan Westin identified four categories of privacy: personal autonomy, emotional release, self-evaluation and protected communication. His was the first major contribution to the problem of consumer data privacy, but it was quickly built upon by the psychologist and writer, Daryl Pedersen.

Pedersen defines privacy as a control process on which people restrict or seek interaction. He identifies six categories of privacy behaviour: solitude, isolation, anonymity, reserve, intimacy friends and intimacy with family.

These privacy behaviours accomplish a complex array of ‘privacy functions’, vital for mental health and the contribution to families, community and society. These include contemplation, autonomy, rejuvenation, confiding, freedom, creativity, recovery, catharises and concealment.

I suspect the majority of us rarely recognise, let alone respect such needs and boundaries. But we must appreciate that certain – if not the majority of – online spaces are sacrosanct and shouldn’t be encroached upon by parents, marketers or the state.

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