US citizens downbeat on privacy

13 November 2014

WASHINGTON, DC: The great majority of US citizens feel they have no control over their personal information and more are concerned about advertisers than government having access to the data they share on social media according to a new report.

The Pew Research Center's Internet Project commissioned a representative online panel of 607 adults to respond to a series of surveys in the wake of 2013's revelations about US government surveillance programs by contractor Edward Snowden; twenty six also participated in one of three online focus groups.

Fully 91% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that consumers had lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.

And 80% of those who used social networking sites said they were concerned about third parties like advertisers or businesses accessing the data they shared on these sites.

Despite Snowden's exposure of government activities, people were still marginally more prepared to trust it than advertisers, as 70% of social networking site users said that they were at least somewhat concerned about the government accessing some of the information they shared on social networking sites without their knowledge.

Two thirds of Americans (64%) also thought the government should do more to regulate advertisers, compared with 34% who believed the government should not get more involved.

But even though they were unhappy about who was accessing their information and the uses to which it was being put, Americans were prepared to make trade-offs in certain circumstances, such as when their sharing of information provided access to free services.

Six in ten (61%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement: 'I appreciate that online services are more efficient because of the increased access they have to my personal data.'

At the same time, however, 55% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: 'I am willing to share some information about myself with companies in order to use online services for free.'

Among the things they are most unwilling to share are social security details and information about their health and medication. More happily for advertisers, few regarded their basic purchasing habits (7%) or media preferences (9%) as being very sensitive.

Data sourced from Pew Center; additional content by Warc staff