Post-Snowden, Americans Leery on Web Privacy

The Edward Snowden revelations about the extent of the U.S. government’s electronic surveillance are no longer breaking news, which means it’s time to see whether those disclosures had a long-term effect on how Americans perceive their privacy, and how they protect their data online. Fortunately, some new survey data from the Pew Research Center provides insight into those very questions.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 4.31.09 PMWhile a majority of Americans (9 in 10) have heard about the U.S. government’s extensive surveillance programs, only a third (34 percent) have taken additional steps to shield their data from outside intrusion. Roughly 17 percent have changed their privacy settings on social media, while 15 percent now use social media less often as a result of all that surveillance-related news; another 15 percent avoid apps that could leak their personal information, and 13 percent have uninstalled certain apps.

Another 13 percent of Americans have taken things to an extreme, by restricting some of the terms they use in online communications (i.e., “explosives”). There is, of course, a correlation between those Americans who’ve heard the most about the extent of online surveillance, and those who’re taking extensive steps to safeguard their privacy.

“Additionally, a notable share of Americans have taken specific technical steps to assert some control over their privacy and security,” read the Pew report accompanying the data. “For instance, 25 [percent] of those who are aware of the surveillance programs are using more complex passwords.”

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Despite those concerns, it seems the majority of Americans support the government’s surveillance programs, at least in part. Some 54 percent said it was fine for federal agencies to monitor the communications of foreign citizens, while 60 percent thought it acceptable to do the same to American leaders; but a similar number (57 percent) thought it “unacceptable for the government to monitor the communications of U.S. citizens.”

What does this mean for app developers and other tech pros? Your customer base—whether the enterprise or consumers—still care very deeply about privacy and security; neglect those features at your peril.

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Image: Pew Research Center

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