Americans Doubt They Can Protect Their Privacy - InformationWeek

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11/13/2014
09:06 AM
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Americans Doubt They Can Protect Their Privacy

A Pew Research Center study finds broad concern about government and corporate data gathering, along with a desire for more government regulation of data gathering.

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Americans are concerned about their privacy and would like to do more to protect their privacy, but doubt their ability to do so, according to a Pew Research Center study.

The Pew Research Center Internet Project on Wednesday published findings about Americans' attitudes toward privacy following former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's revelations about government access to phone records and online communication.

As other reports have indicated in the past, this one found that Americans worry about privacy but will surrender it for convenience. However, the ongoing series of news reports arising from documents revealed by Snowden have made Americans more aware of and worried about surveillance, whether done on behalf of governments or businesses.

With 43% of respondents saying that they've heard "a lot" about government monitoring of communication as an ostensible defense against terrorism and 44% saying they've heard "a little," almost all Americans surveyed believe they've lost control of their personal information.

According to the Pew Research Center study, "91% of adults in the survey 'agree' or 'strongly agree' that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies." Those aware of the Snowden disclosures have the most doubt about their ability to communicate in private.

Such concern could affect the willingness of Internet users to continue engaging with social networking sites. Some 80% of respondents who use social networking sites expressed concern that third-parties may be accessing the data they share. And 70% said they were "at least somewhat concerned" about the government accessing the information they share through social networking sites.

Then again, such risks were known and discussed for years before Snowden shined a spotlight on the absence of privacy, and Facebook still has about 1.23 billion monthly active users. Responding to a survey and actually taking privacy precautions that may lead to increased inconvenience are two different things.

Ironically, Americans want the government to limit what the private sector can do with their data even as they fret about government access to their data. Pew Research Center says, "64% believe the government should do more to regulate advertisers, compared with 34% who think the government should not get more involved."

And at the same time, 55% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the sentiment that it is okay to share some information with businesses in order to use services for free.

In short, people want the government to protect them from themselves and they want something for nothing.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
11/22/2014 | 8:43:28 AM
Re: Government, heal thyself.
Not only that, the people also voted those back into Congress majority who authored the legislation that gives any government agency broad surveillance power without any checks and balances nor means to seek a public court. If people are really that concerned about Internet privacy they should have voted for other people.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
11/17/2014 | 6:33:57 AM
Re: Impact Starting
@Broadway0474, since you've unplugged from Facebook, do you feel like you're missing important information?
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
11/16/2014 | 10:11:34 PM
Re: Impact Starting
I am one of those who have dropped out of Facebook, at least as an active participant. I will go in and see what other people are up to, even like some of my friend's stuff. But I haven't posted anything about my life in months I think. It all comes down to me not wanting to put my private gunk, or my kids' privacy stuff, out there anymore.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
11/14/2014 | 6:26:56 AM
Re: Impact Starting
Maybe social media can be an addiction. It still doesn't change the fact that each of us is responsible for what we share. Make a decision to turn it off. I've known a number of folks who have consciously decided to step out of Facebook for a period of time. They didn't miss anything truly important, and it was a positive experience. In some areas, no one has more control over our privacy than we do. Take control instead of playing the victim.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
11/14/2014 | 4:05:58 AM
Government, heal thyself.
I am bemused by the notion that the same people who are concerned with government snoops collecting information on them also want the same government to regulate advertisers' information collection.

Who will watch the watchmen?
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
11/13/2014 | 11:09:40 PM
Re: Impact Starting
jagibbons, I think this data just prove that social media is a problem, an obsession or an addiction. Akin to smoking or drinking or other bad habits. People know having a few cigarettes and about 12 drinks on every Friday night is bad for them, but they do it. You know you are sharing too much on social media, but you just can't help yourself.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
11/13/2014 | 4:37:30 PM
Re: Impact Starting
It is counter to the grassroots purpose of social media, but the best protection of your privacy in that venue is to watch what you are sharing. If you're concerned that someone you didn't intend might see it (which is pretty much guaranteed), don't share it. It's pretty simple when you think about it.

This really only works, though, when you are voluntarily sharing information.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
11/13/2014 | 10:17:43 AM
Impact Starting
I think we're starting to see the impact, at least among some users who are now less prone to posting personal comments on social media than in prior years.

That said, while we can control the amount of info we share online -- photos, comments, likes, who sees those posts, and geographical tagging -- it's almost impossible often to figure out what we're signing away on ToS; when and how those ToS change; how to get out off ToS; what happens to our data once we leave a site/company, and whether/how companies truly are deidentifying/anonymizing data when they say they are. 
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