Study: 9 in 10 Americans want privacy, but only 1 in 10 think they can get it

pew privacyThe disparity is as dramatic as any you’re likely to see in a public opinion survey.  Nine out of 10 Americans say it’s important to control the information collected about them and who can see it, but fewer than 1 in 10 Americans are confident that either the government or corporations can provide that control.  And in fact, consumers seem to feel there isn’t much they can do for themselves, either: 91 percent had not made any changes to their internet or cell phone use to avoid having their activities tracked or noticed.

The results, published in a new Pew Research Center report this week, create a “cloud of personal data insecurity,” Pew says.

“In the almost two years that have passed since the initial Snowden revelations, the public has been awash in news stories detailing security breaches at major retailers, health insurance companies and financial institutions. These events and the doubts they have inspired have contributed to a cloud of personal ‘data insecurity’ that now looms over many Americans’ daily decisions and activities,” said Mary Madden, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center. “Many find these developments deeply troubling and want limits put in place, while some do not feel these issues affect them personally.”

Other findings from the study:

  • Only 9% of Americans say they feel they have “a lot” of control over how much information is collected about them and how it is used, while 38% say they have “some control.”
  •  Just 6% of adults say they are “very confident” that government agencies can keep their records private and secure, while another 25% say they are “somewhat confident.” Only 6% of respondents say they are “very confident” that landline telephone companies will be able to protect their data and 25% say they are “somewhat confident” that the records of their activities will remain private and secure.  Credit card companies appear to instill a marginally higher level of confidence; 9% say they are “very confident” and 29% say they are “somewhat confident” that their data will stay private and secure.
  • Those who are more aware of the government surveillance efforts are considerably more likely to believe there are not adequate safeguards in place; 74% of those who have heard “a lot” about the programs say that there are not adequate limits, compared with 62% who have heard only “a little” about the monitoring programs.
  • More than half — 55% Americans — support the idea of online anonymity for certain activities, but many are undecided on the issue. Another 16% do not think people should be able to remain anonymous when they are online, and 27% said they “don’t know.   Education is a predictor of desire for anonymity, however.  Adults with at least some college education are significantly more likely than those who have not attended college to believe that people should have the ability to use the internet anonymously (66% vs. 40%).
  • Consumers want limits on how long data that’s collected can be retained: 50% of adults think that online advertisers who place ads on the websites they visit should not save records or archives of their activity for any length of time ;   44% feel that the online video sites they use shouldn’t retain records of their activity;  40% think that their search engine providers shouldn’t retain information about their activity.


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About Bob Sullivan 1380 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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