Security news that informs and inspires

Americans Don’t See Benefits of Data Collection


The majority of American adults are worried about pervasive monitoring and how their data is being collected and used in ways they cannot control, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.

Roughly eight out of ten Americans surveyed by Pew Research said they have little or no control over how companies use their data, and are very concerned about how companies are using the information. In the report Americans and Privacy: Concerned, Confused and Feeling Lack of Control Over Their Personal Information, Pew’s authors noted that most Americans don’t trust the companies collecting information about them to do a good job of protecting that information.

Companies justify data collection by promising better services and personalized experience, but the people in the survey didn’t seem to feel they were getting the benefits. About 81 percent of survey respondents said the data risks associated with sharing data with companies weren’t worth the rewards.

Large shares are worried about the amount of information that entities, like social media companies or advertisers, have about them," the report said. "At the same time, Americans feel as if they have little to no control over what information is being gathered and are not sold on the benefits that this type of data collection brings to their life.

Privacy is Confusing

About a third of the respondents said they understand the laws and regulations around privacy. Most, or 63 percent, said they do not understand the laws and regulations that are currently in place to protect their data privacy. Part of that is because the contracts that govern the data relationship-the terms and conditions and privacy policies-are not easy to read. More than half of respondents, 57 percent, said they see a privacy notice at least every week, but only 22 percent claim they read the notices in entirety. That seems like a very high number, and could be an overestimate by the respondents.

Seven out of ten Americans felt their personal information was less secure than it was five years ago, compared to a mere 6 percent who said the information was more secure. About a quarter felt the situation has not changed.

“Large data breaches have become a regular feature of modern life – affecting companies like Capital One, Facebook, Equifax and Uber,” wrote the report’s authors.

Tracking as Inevitable

The survey found that 72 percent of Americans report feeling that all, almost all, or most, of what they do online or using their mobile device is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms, and other companies. Close to half—47 percent—believed at least most of their online activities were being tracked by the government. And for most of the respondents, this kind of data collection was inevitable. About 62 percent of Americans said they cannot prevent companies from collecting data on their online and offline activities, and a similar number—63 percent—said the same about government data collection.

In the survey, 79 percent were worried how the companies are using the data compared to the 64 percent being concerned about the government’s activities. About half, or 49 percent, or surveyed adults said it was acceptable for the government to collect data to determine if people posed a terrorist threat, but only a quarter felt it was acceptable for a company to give law enforcement access to recordings made by a product (a smart-speaker) to law enforcement.

That finding is particularly relevant in light of reports that 400 police departments across the country have partnered with Amazon’s Ring, the “smart” doorbell program, to give law enforcement access to Ring’s recordings.

Favor Regulation

One way to address this concern was through regulation, as 75 percent of adults said there should be more regulation. There was a bit of a difference along party lines on the question, as 81 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents in the survey were in favor of government regulating what companies can do with personal data, compared to 70 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. However, given the choice between better tools to manage data collection and regulation, the respondents favored having better tools.