In the past year, it has become increasingly clear just how public our private communications are. Edward Snowden exposed the extent of government snooping in western democracies, large retail firms have been repeatedly subject to security breaches—with millions of individuals’ personal details leaked each time—and journalists have been energetically revealing the reach of corporate surveillance for advertising and marketing purposes.
Yet the idea that people simply do not care about privacy remains entrenched. But a new survey from the Pew Research Center out today gives lie to this notion, finding that eight in 10 Americans think they should be concerned by government snooping, and nine in 10 believe they have lost control over how their personal information is collected and used by companies.
Two-thirds of Americans are of the opinion that the government should do more to regulate advertisers.
Indeed, people are much more concerned about privacy than is generally believed. Nearly two-thirds disagree with the statement “I appreciate that online services are more efficient because of the increased access they have to my personal data.” Four out of five people are concerned about advertisers accessing their social media posts, and 70% worry the government will do the same.
Nor is it just old fogeys and luddites who are concerned. People aged between 18 and 29 are just as likely to say they consider certain types of information private and sensitive as those in older age groups. In some cases, younger people are more concerned, presumably because they are better informed about the reach of online data tracking.
Americans are also well aware of the inherent insecurity of digital communications. More than 80% of respondents don’t feel secure using social media to share private information with another person, nearly 70% say the same about chat and instant messaging, and just under 60% concur when it comes to text messages. Well over half the people surveyed feel insecure sending private information via email, and just under half feel the same way about their mobile phones.
Americans may embrace technology and trade some security for convenience, but the Pew report shows they aren’t unaware of the pitfalls.