Americans Fear for Their Privacy Online: Report

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Americans fear for their privacy online, according to a new survey of 607 Americans by the Pew Research Center.

Given the amount of publicity surrounding last year’s revelations about the extent of the National Security Agency’s spying, it’s no wonder that 87 percent of Americans have heard anywhere from “a little” to “a lot” about the government’s mass collection of electronic communications and telephone calls. (A mere 5 percent had heard “nothing at all.”)

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Those revelations, combined with the infamous e-security failures at retailers such as Target, have eroded Americans’ confidence that their personal information is safe online: Some 91 percent of adults in the survey either agreed or strongly agreed that “consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies,” according to Pew. Another 88 percent agreed or strongly agreed that it would be “very difficult to remove inaccurate information about them online.”

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Of those Americans using social media, 80 percent expressed concerns about advertisers and businesses accessing information posted there in order to sell products. While slightly fewer (70 percent) feared the government accessing social data without their knowledge or consent, a majority felt that the government could do more to regulate those advertisers.

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“Across the board, there is a universal lack of confidence among adults in the security of everyday communications channels—particularly when it comes to the use of online tools,” Pew concluded. “Americans’ lack of confidence in core communications channels tracks closely with how much they have heard about government surveillance programs.”

For anyone in tech, numbers like this send a clear message: privacy matters to pretty much everyone using the Web. If you’re building or managing apps or Web pages, you need a privacy policy that makes consumers feel safe, or risk the same sort of wrath that comes down on Facebook and Twitter every time they attempt to adjust their respective terms of service. It’s also imperative to let those consumers know what data you collect, and who might end up using it.

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Images: Pew Research Center

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