The American Understanding of Privacy

Nail Art

Following the Snowden scandal, Pew Research Center set out on an journey to understand better how America feels about privacy.

This 2 ½ year long study explored how Americans view personal information captured by government surveillance and for commercial transactions done online.

Have you ever read an article about protecting your privacy online, and realized you don’t even know the half of this tremendous threat? You thought clicking around your facebook privacy settings is all it’s about, and you have an epiphany moment of how tremendous the scope of this threat is? turns out, you’re not alone.

This research project sheds light on how America feels about privacy, and what they are willing to do to protect it.

What They Think:

Across the board, American adults agree (91%) that consumers have lost control of how personal information is collected and used by companies. Furthermore, there is a general consensus of lack of confidence in the everyday communication channels Americans use and the organizations that control them.

People worry about how much of their info is available online, and are aware of what is available about them across the internet. Privacy is no longer seen by these as a condition, or a reality, rather as a commodity. An emerging one, anyway.

According to the report, few people expressed confidence in the organizations, that their records and information will actually remain secure.

Many Americans have difficulty understanding the scope and nature of the data collected about them. Almost everyone understands that it is being collected, some of them fully grasp how; but most feel they are in the dark about how this all works and how detrimental it can actually be. The study shows a significant number of Americans feeling confused (about what it says in different privacy policies), discouraged (by the exerted effort needed to understand said privacy policies), and impatient (because they felt they needed more time to reach an educated understanding of the information sharing process, but were rushed to make a decision).


What They Do:

What would convince someone to agree to share their information with a certain company? What would be considered too much?
When forking over their information in return for some sort of service, it seems that the general consensus is that “it depends”. Americans calculate the risk/benefit in making decisions regarding what information they feel comfortable sharing, on which sites, with which organizations, for how long, and in exchange for what? All these and more are calculated when deciding whether to allow an organization access to their personal info. each situation is considered and viewed through a slightly different lens, depending on several criteria and will be assessed differently by an overwhelming majority of americans.

After considering the cost benefit of such agreements, and calculating each situation individually, 86% of americans do take steps to try and mask their identity online, and hide their tracks. More research shows that the majority of adults try in some way or another to protect their online identity– by encrypting their email, using a different name, clearing cookies, or using virtual networks that mask their IP address. As proud as we are to hear that, still 61% said they wish they could do more to protect themselves. Many are unaware of sophisticated anonymity software and email encryption programs that are out there.



Looking Ahead

Indeed the boundaries between the private and public sphere are shifting, privacy declining as the public sphere grows. Our data is the raw material of the knowledge economy and the methods through which it is harvested are at the heart of the most successful business models of today and tomorrow.
Tech experts predict that soon, only a select group of the population will be able to afford themselves real protection from data surveillance. Protection of your data will become a luxury good, whether because of lack of energy or resources.

“The citizens will divide between those who prefer convenience and those who prefer privacy”

– Niels Ole Finnemann, a professor and director of NetLab, Dighumlab in Denmark

So, What Now?

This study is an insightful look into the reality of privacy awareness in American adults since it has catapulted to our awareness in the last 2 years since the Snowden scandal.

How we choose to treat it and how proactive we are about protecting ourselves is our decision. Even with all the uncertainty regarding the nature of data collection by governments and corporate organizations, there is a great deal we can be proactive about. MyPermissions helps you understand who is collecting what data and how, and lets you take control of your data. Get involved with us!

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