Americans dislike data tracking – but someone else should control it

A recent Pew Research poll dived into what American’s think about data collection and user tracking – and uncovered a deeply conflicted population that is uneasy about the extent of corporate tracking and data collection, thinks data privacy laws should be strengthened – but which still can’t be bothered to read through privacy policies.

How Americans view privacy and data tracking — and their concerns about it

Here are the Pew distillation of the 10 major points to their research findings – and a few notes to put these finding in context.

1. Americans are concerned about how much data is being collected about them, and many feel their information is less secure than it used to be.

Yes. Americans should be nervous. They are more worried about corporate tracking than the government. (79% to 64%) As the US Congress just voted to extend the Patriot Act, maybe they just believe that the government already knows everything.

2. A majority of the public believes much of their online smartphone activities are being tracked.

Well, a 72% share of respondents were pretty sure that companies are doing this … as opposed to 47% that think the government is going it. This finding is amazing on two fronts. First, 72% is rather low. That is just about the level of Google trackers on web pages. Let’s not forget about the Facebook trackers. Second, only 31% believe that they are tracked offline with their phones. Haven’t they ever thought about the GPS capabilities in their phones? Take a look at the Google Maps records.

3. Large shares of Americans do not think it is possible to go about daily life without corporate and government entities collecting data about them.

Just think, a 36-38% of respondents believe that it is possible to not have their data collected. Obviously these people do not go to the doctor, use free WiFi, or even have a loyalty card for the local supermarket.

4. A majority of U.S. adults have heard at least a little about how companies and other organizations use their data to target them with ads.

So … there is some understanding of data tracking and collection by three out of four. It’s a start. There is a lot more to learn about the role of trackers and ISPs in leaking your data.

5. Very few Americans believe they understand what is being done with the data collected about them.

Interesting that there was greater uncertainty over what the government does with its trove compared to companies (78% to 59%). Perhaps this is because the government does not simply convert this data into customer insights and ads.

6. Almost all Americans have been asked to agree to privacy policies, but fewer actually read them.

No surprise here, most people either ignore or skip over. Simplifying consent forms should be an integral element in any new data protection laws. And then, sometimes apps don’t even ask permission before they take your private data.

7. Most Americans see more risks than benefits from personal data collection.

This is the potential game changer – eight out of ten feel the risks outweigh the rewards. Could that previous equation of “We give you free services and you give us your data” be changing? And, only one out of five see some personal benefits to this data exchange.

8. Americans vary in their attitudes toward data-sharing in the pursuit of public good.

Protection of the common good is ambiguous: Half were OK with mass data collection to protect against terrorist attacks but only a quarter were OK with their smart speaker developers sharing recordings with the police to solve crimes. This is not good news for either Edward Snowden or for Ring security IoT devices.

9. The majority of the public does not feel in control of the data collected about them.

Yes, 84% are indeed right – they do have very little control over this data. The only country-wide exception for Americans is their health data thanks to HIPPA. And, it remains to be seen how the new California data protection laws will be either communicated to the masses or enforced.

10.  Americans say they have very little understanding of current data protection laws, and most are in favor of more government regulation.

Congress should take note of this, with 63% not understanding current laws and 75% wanting more government regulation. Stay tuned. More changes might be happening.

These findings come from a survey of 4,272 U.S. adults conducted in June of 2019.

As a PR Consultant and journalist, Frink has covered IT security issues for a number of security software firms, as well as provided reviews and insight on the beer and automotive industries (but usually not at the same time). Otherwise, he’s known for making a great bowl of popcorn and extraordinary messes in a kitchen.