Privacy: Technology

Pew Study Says Exactly What You'd Expect on Privacy

By Benjamin Wittes
Thursday, November 13, 2014, 9:09 AM

The Pew Research Internet Project has released a new public opinion study that shows exactly what you would expect the public believes about privacy, surveillance, and related matters. The study seems to have involved a major effort, and I read it yesterday expecting to find some new insight into public opinion about privacy. Nope. Nothing. It all amounts to the idea that the public doesn't trust communications channels, the government, or industry. It wants more done to protect privacy. But not if that means not getting free services.

Here are a list of all of the findings of the new study. See if you find any of them remotely surprising.

  • "The term privacy evokes a constellation of concepts in the minds of the American public."
  • "A large segment of the responses associated privacy with concepts of security, safety and protection."
  • "Privacy also signals a range of things that are considered personal."
  • "Many respondents associated privacy with the ability to keep some things secret or hidden."
  • "Most have heard at least a little about government surveillance."
  • "Those who have heard 'a lot' about government surveillance programs are also more aware of their own digital footprints."
  • "Few feel it's a 'good thing' for society if people believe they are being watched online."
  • "Most Americans agree that citizens 'should be concerned' about the government's monitoring programs."
  • "Public confidence in the security of core communications channels is low." These channels include, in descending order of confidence, landline phones, cell phones, email, text messages, chat programs, and social media.
  • "Those who are more aware of gov't surveillance [are] more likely to see communications channels as 'not at all secure.'"
  • "Americans' lack of confidence in communications security is accompanied by low levels of trust in government and advertisers."
  • "An overwhelming majority of the American public senses a loss of control over how their personal information is collected and used by companies."
  • "Most Americans support greater regulation of advertisers and the way they handle personal information."
  • "Americans consider certain kinds of data to be more sensitive than others." In descending order of sensitivity, Americans rate data as follows: Social security numbers, health data, phone contents, email contents, geolocation data, text message contents, phone metadata, date of birth, relationship history, web browsing history, search history, religious views, friends list, political views, media consumed, and purchasing habits.
  • "About one in three adults says they value the greater efficiency of online services because of the increased access they have to personal data."
  • "Many are willing to share some information about themselves with companies to use online services for free."
  • "Six in ten adults feel as though they 'would like to do more' to protect the privacy of their personal data online."
  • "Content creators employ multiple strategies for managing their identities when posting online."
  • "Few adults think it is 'easy' for them to be anonymous online."
  • "Nearly nine in ten adults agree that if inaccurate information was posted about them online, it would be very difficult to remove."
  • "Yet, relatively few say they have had any bad experiences because embarrassing or inaccurate information was posted about them online."
  • "16% of adults say they have asked someone to remove or correct information about them that was posted online."
  • "Photos and videos are the most common types of information that people request to be removed or corrected."
  • "24% of employed adults say their employer has rules or guidelines about how they present themselves online."
  • "However, few have set up automatic alerts to monitor results connected to their name online."
  • "Many still do not assume that people they meet will search for information about them online."