Internet companies have run amok with our personal data, and people aren’t entirely sure what to do about it, judging from the results of a new survey.
More than 90 percent of Americans feel they’ve lost control over how their personal information is collected and used by companies, particularly for advertising purposes, according to the results of a survey by the Pew Research Center, published Wednesday.
Eighty percent expressed concern over how third parties like advertisers accessed the data they share on social media sites. Pew did not gather the names of which sites specifically respondents meant, but you could likely venture a guess.
The survey, which polled 607 adults online, was the Washington, D.C.-based think tank’s first in a series to tackle Americans’ views toward privacy after the leaks around government surveillance made by Edward Snowden last year.
The majority of respondents did indeed say that people should be concerned about whether the government is listening in on their phone calls, or viewing their online communications and other sensitive data.
But beyond government surveillance, the findings also reflect people’s attitudes amid the increasing sophistication by which Internet companies leverage people’s data for advertising.
“It’s a bundle of concerns,” said Lee Rainie, one of Pew’s lead researchers on the project, in an interview. “It’s partly surveillance, it’s partly tracking, and this generalized sense that I’m losing control of my identity and my data,” he said.
The constant flood of stories related to data breaches, whether it’s at Target, Snapchat, or P.F. Chang’s, don’t help either.
But voicing concern about the level of access companies, governments and other groups have to data is one thing; taking action in response is another.
Some respondents said they have taken actions to protect their privacy, like using a pseudonym, but a majority of respondents agreed that achieving anonymity online is not possible.
People’s concerns around privacy might be part of the trade-off in using a free service. Some 55 percent of respondents said they were willing to share “some information about myself with companies in order to use online services for free.”