Pew: Internet Users Feel Powerless Against Digital Data Mining

In a recent survey, 91 percent of adults said they felt consumers had lost control over how their personal information was collected and used online.

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Internet users are often worried about how much data they expose online, even as they continue to expose more of it than ever. A new study from Pew Research Center looks at the attitudes of American adults towards privacy. The report focuses on attitudes towards sharing data on social networks, government surveillance and security awareness.

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When it came to the security of communication channels, survey participants had the least faith in social networks. Only two percent felt “very secure” about sharing private information over social networks, and 14 percent felt “somewhat secure.” Users didn’t feel too secure using chat or instant-messaging services either: 29 percent considered it somewhat secure or better. Sending email came in third, with 40 percent considering it secure.

Consumer awareness of government surveillance had a big impact on their trust of services. Users who answered that they had “heard a lot about surveillance” were more skeptical of communication tools than those who “heard a little/nothing about surveillance.” This resulted in a trust gap increase of 11 percent.

Most users surveyed — 62 percent — disagreed with the statement “It is a good thing for society if people believe that someone is keeping an eye on the things that they do online.” Close to 80 percent of American adults agreed that users should be concerned about their data online, especially when it comes to the government.

However, the government isn’t the only cause for concern; Internet users are also worried about advertisers accessing their data through social networks. Thirty-seven percent of respondents were “very concerned” that the government would access their social networking data without their knowledge, and 35 percent felt the same about advertisers. Thirty-four and 45 percent respectively were “somewhat concerned” about the same issue.

One of the most striking takeaways from this study is that users feel a sense of impotence when it comes to digital data mining. Ninety-one percent of adults surveyed agreed with the statement: “Consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.” Only one percent strongly disagreed with this statement.