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Over 50 and Oversharing: How Boomers Use Technology

Bob Sullivan

Grandma and Grandpa are sexting? Yup, says a new survey of 50- to 75-year-olds conducted by security firm McAfee. The research suggests older social media and smartphone users are also oversharing at an alarming rate, putting them at greater risk for identity theft.

More than half of older Net users have shared their email address online, while a little more than 1 in 4 have published their cellphone number or their home address.

The group’s bad habits extend to their smartphones, McAfee says: 1 in 3 don’t password-protect their gadgets, meaning anyone who finds their lost iPhone or Android could have full access to any data on the device.

That might include the ability to spy on some embarrassing messages: 24% of older mobile consumers have used their device to send “intimate personal photos, texts, or emails,” McAfee says. Respect your elders’ privacy, kids.

“Thanks to social media, societal norms have undergone a seismic shift in the past five years,” said McAfee’s Robert Siciliano. “What was once considered private or even taboo is not only fair game, it’s expected. But this can have serious consequences from the ending of friendships to exposure to physical harm.”

Unsafe computing habits follow the same learning curve as each demographic adopts a new technology — the Web, email, social media, smartphones, etc. Something about new gadgets turns us all into naive kids again. We each have to get burned a few times before learning not to forward chain emails, not to enter a credit card number into a random website, and not to leave a cellphone on the table without password protection.

The older Americans who do go online are on there a lot, the survey indicates: Those 50-61 spend an average of 5 hours and 42 minutes online a day, compared to those 62-75, who spend 4 hours and 36 minutes online.

But not all older Americans are online: far from it. Still 4 in 10 Americans 65-and-older aren’t online. But the ranks of older Net users are climbing: In 2004, the Pew Internet and American Life Project said only 22% of those 65 and older were online, compared to 53% in 2012, and 59% this year.

For McAfee’s survey, the firm hired The Futures Company to conduct a total of 1,258 online interviews in the U.S. among consumers ages 50-75 who spent at least one hour per week online. Interviews were distributed evenly by demographics.

“We all need to seriously think about some hard consequences of sharing too much personal information,” Siciliano said. “Think about it…is that friend really a friend if you haven’t seen them in 25 years?”

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