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50% of kids have assumed fake identity online: poll

TORONTO - A report examining how Canadian kids view Internet privacy found about half have assumed a fake identity or misrepresented their age online, while about 60 per cent said they'd be willing to share their passwords with family or friends.

"Shielding one's identity online is a practice that appears to be learned young and is used consistently by a significant number of students of all ages," states the report by the non-profit organization MediaSmarts. The report is based on surveys conducted last year with 5,436 students from across the country in grades 4 through 11.

Despite the growing number of headlines about the risks of sharing too much online, many survey respondents suggested they were lax about guarding their privacy and personal information on the Internet.

About one in four kids said they'd trust their best friends to have access to their online accounts, while 16 per cent of the students in grades 7 through 11 said they'd let their boyfriend or girlfriend log in to their accounts.

The kids were far more likely to give their parents access to their passwords, with 41 per cent saying they'd let their mom or dad into their accounts.

The boys were more likely to say they wouldn't share their passwords with anyone — including their parents — with 46 per said saying so, compared to 35 per cent of the girls.

Nearly half of all the kids said they had created online accounts under phoney names, sometimes to protect their privacy. But some admitted they did it for somewhat malicious reasons.

About one in three said they posted under a fake name to play a joke on someone and 10 per cent said they did so to "be mean to someone without getting into trouble." Another 13 per cent said they used a false identity to flirt with someone online.

Another common reason to use a fake identity online was to access websites that bar youngsters from registering.

Just one in five Grade 4 kids said they lied about their age to get access to a website. But roughly one in three fifth graders, half of the Grade 6, 7, 8 and 9 students and about two in three of the tenth and eleventh graders were misrepresenting their real age on at least one website.

Not surprisingly, there was a big range in students' willingness to have their parents supervise their time online, with the older kids much more reluctant to share the details of their digital lives.

Nearly eight in 10 of the fourth graders agreed with the statement "parents should keep track of their kids online all the time," compared to just one in four of the eleventh graders.

And eight in 10 of the oldest kids in the survey agreed with the statement "parents should not listen in on their kids' online conversations or read their texts," compared to four in 10 of the fourth graders.

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