Pando

Pew: Most Americans don't trust private companies or government agencies with their data

By Nathaniel Mott , written on May 21, 2015

From The News Desk

Pew reports that a majority of Americans (roughly 65 percent) believe there are inadequate restrictions on government data collection. Many others have also complained about the amount of data held by online advertisers, social sites, video streaming services, search companies, and other online service providers.

The findings are the result of a survey of 498 adults conducted in 2014. Pew estimates that its margin of error is plus or minus 5.6 percentage points. In many cases, this still means a majority of Americans are uneasy about the information collected and stored by the government and tech companies.

Here's what Pew says about people's concerns over government surveillance:

The majority view that there are not sufficient limits on what data the government gathers is consistent across all demographic groups. Those who are more aware of the government surveillance efforts are considerably more likely to believe there are not adequate safeguards in place; 74% of those who have heard 'a lot' about the programs say that there are not adequate limits, compared with 62% who have heard only 'a little' about the monitoring programs.
And here's what it has to say about private companies gathering data:
There is wide variation across the length of time that respondents feel is reasonable for businesses and other organizations to store their data. Additionally, there is considerable variance on their views depending on the kind of organization that retains the records of the activity. In general, and even though it may be necessary to provide certain functionality, people are less comfortable with online service providers – such as search engine providers and social media sites – storing records and archives of their activity.
Part of the problem stems from a fear that the entities holding the data will not be able to secure it. A vast majority of respondents were "not too confident" or "not at all confident" that online advertisers, social media sites, search engine operators, and online video sites will be able to keep their information private.

Those fears aren't restricted to private companies. Just 6 percent of Americans said they were very confident that government agencies could keep their data secure; 56 percent of respondents said they weren't confident about that. Many people trusted their credit card companies more than the government.

This all fits with previous reports about Americans changing their habits after Edward Snowden revealed National Security Agency surveillance programs in 2013. A previous report from Pew showed that awareness of the programs was rising, and the more people knew about them, the more concerned they grew.

As time goes on, it seems like more Americans are learning not to trust anyone, whether it's an intelligence agency or the company behind their favorite service. It's too bad Pew didn't ask when it might be acceptable to wear tinfoil headgear.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]