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Risk

Teens Engage In Risky Online Behavior

McAfee study finds teenagers often share personal information, including their name, location, or cell phone number, with strangers.

Teens share too much information online.

That's the finding of a survey of 955 people aged 13 to 17 commissioned by security company McAfee and conducted by Harris Interactive last month. The survey asked teens to report on how they use the Internet, what they read and download, as well as their behavior online.

According to the study, 69% of teenagers have included their physical location in a social networking status update, nearly one-third chat online with people they don't know in the offline world, and nearly half share their real first name with strangers. In addition, 24% have shared their e-mail address with strangers, 18% a photograph of themselves, and 12% their cell phone number.

"Online, there's a sense of trust and anonymity, so kids let their guard down," said McAfee's Tracy Mooney. "Kids would never hand out their name and address to a stranger in the real world, so it's alarming to see how many kids do that very thing online."

The study also found that the online habits of boys and girls often differ, "perhaps because girls tend to communicate more." For example, girls are more likely to chat with people they don't know -- 32% of girls, versus 24% of boys. Younger girls are more likely than boys to share a description of their physical appearance. At the same time, girls were also more likely to report that they had been harassed or bullied online than boys.

This is the third year in a row that McAfee has commissioned such a study, and today's teens are, perhaps unsurprisingly, more wired than ever. For example, 73% of teens today have a social networking account, compared with 59% just two years ago. Their Internet use has also increased dramatically, which McAfee attributes to 30% of respondents using Internet-enabled smartphones, 21% using Internet-enabled gaming consoles, and 23% accessing the Web via Wi-Fi hotspots.

Just over half of surveyed teenagers also said they regularly download media. Interestingly, while only 28% of teens downloaded music from a free service in 2008, this year 46% had done so.

Unfortunately, that's not all teens downloaded. Indeed, 27% said they'd accidentally allowed their home computer to become infected with malware or viruses. Then again, most parents would probably have to say the same.

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