Key Takeaways on Americans’ Views About Privacy, Surveillance, and Data Sharing

Key Takeaways on Americans’ Views About Privacy, Surveillance, and Data Sharing

Last year’s survey revealed that Americans feel rather confused and anxious when it comes to privacy issues. Skepticism towards privacy-related subjects remains at an all-time high. Americans complain about the potential risks they face because of data collected by companies. They believe that companies do a worse job than the government when it comes to data sharing and protection. They feel a lack of control over their personal information.  

What’s the problem?

People exchange details about themselves and their activities for services and products on the web or apps. Many are willing to accept the deals they are offered in return for sharing insight about their purchases, behaviors, and social lives. Afterward, data sharing information is collected by the government because it benefits public safety and security. According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans are concerned about this use of their data.

Large data breaches have become a regular feature of modern life

There is a reason behind everything. Since data breaches affected great companies like Capital One, Facebook, Equifax and Uber, the survey finds that seven-in-ten Americans feel their personal information is less secure than it was five years ago, only 6% say their information is more secure, and about 24% feel the situation hasn’t changed. 81% of survey respondents said the data risks associated with company data-sharing aren’t worth the rewards. 72% of Americans report feeling that most of what they do online or on their cellphones is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies. As if this weren’t enough, nearly 63% of adult Americans say they don’t understand the laws and regulations that are currently in place to protect their data privacy. 

Americans feel the government acts in disfavor of citizens

63% of Americans say that their online and offline activities are now regularly tracked and monitored by companies and the government. A majority of Americans reported concerns over the way their data is being used by companies (79%) versus the government (64%). 47% believe that most of their online activities are being tracked by the government. One remedy to data and privacy insecurity is regulation. 75% of adults say there should be more regulation than there is now. Although a majority of both Republicans and Democrats agree that companies’ usage of personal data should be regulated more closely, Democrats are more likely to believe there should be more government regulation on what companies can do with their customers’ personal information (81% vs. 70%).

The theme of privacy in American history 

Louis Brandeis, before becoming Supreme Court justice, proclaimed in an 1890 “Harvard Law Review” article that Americans enjoyed their “right to privacy,” which he argued was the “right to be let alone.” In 1965, the Supreme Court embraced Brandeis’ view, ruling that the right to privacy can be inferred from the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and 14th Amendments. More modern concepts have focused on Americans’ view that they ought to be able to control their identity and personal information.

Definitions of the words “privacy” and “digital privacy”

So how is privacy defined nowadays? Americans often mention their concerns about the role other people and organizations can play in learning about them. They underline the desire to shield their activities and possessions, and their interest in controlling who can have access to their information. By comparison, fewer people mention third parties and the selling of their information, tracking or monitoring, crime and other threats of illicit activity, or interference from the government.

When asked what privacy means to them, 28% of respondents mention other people or organizations: keeping information out of reach from big data companies, keeping credit card numbers, address info, location, banking info, health info, secret. Around one-quarter mentions the significance of having the control to decide what aspects of their lives are accessible to others. 9% of surveyed respondents believe that “digital privacy” is a myth and doesn’t exist. They believe that once someone uploads something on a computer that is connected to the internet, privacy is compromised. They have the idea that no matter what type of security they have, any hacker that wants in will get in, it’s just a matter of time. 

Data breach anxiety vs. educational level

Majorities believe their personal data is less secure than it was in the past, but some groups are more likely to feel this than others. Those with higher levels of educational background are more likely to believe things are worse. 78% of those with a bachelor’s or advanced degree say their personal information is less secure, compared with 64% of those with a high school education or less. 

Other demographic differences when it comes to breaches

Roughly three-in-ten Americans have experienced some kind of data breach in the past 12 months. 21% of Americans have had fraudulent charges on their debit or credit cards in the past year. Smaller shares say someone has taken over their social media or email account without their permission or attempted to open a line of credit or apply for a loan using their name.

Black Americans are more likely to experience social media and email breaches. Black adults (20%) are roughly three times as likely as their Hispanic (7%) or white counterparts (6%) to say someone has taken over their social media or email account in the past year. Black Americans are also more likely to say someone attempted to open a line of credit or apply for a loan using their name in the past 12 months, compared with smaller shares of white and Hispanic adults.

Key Takeaways on Americans’ Views About Privacy, Surveillance, and Data Sharing

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