A whopping 70% of U.S. adults believe their personal data is less secure now than it was five years ago, and most believe they can’t get through the day without leaving a data trail, according to new data from the Pew Research Center. Most U.S. adults also believe that data collection has more risks than rewards and that companies are not good stewards of the data they collect on people, according to the findings.
In the survey of about 4,300 U.S. adults, 62% said it was now impossible to go through daily life without companies collecting data on them; 63% said the same about government data collection.
Most of the respondents also said they believed companies tracked most of what they did online or via mobile; most also believed companies or the government tracked at least some of their offline activities, such as whom they spoke with or their whereabouts. More than 80% said they had little or no control over the data that companies or the government collect about them.
People were skeptical about how well companies and the government managed the data they collect, according to the survey. In particular, 79% of respondents said they weren’t confident companies would admit to, or take responsibility for, misusing or compromising their personal information, and 69% said they weren’t confident companies would use their personal data in ways they’d support.
Opinions varied about acceptable data use, however.
“For example, 57% of adults say they are very or somewhat comfortable with companies using their personal data to help companies improve their fraud prevention systems. But they are evenly split when the issue is their comfort with companies using their personal data in developing new products,” the study said. “About a third (36%) of adults say they are at least somewhat comfortable with companies sharing their personal data with outside groups doing research that might help them improve society, but a larger share (64%) say they would be uncomfortable with this practice.”
However, only 9% said they always read company privacy policies before agreeing to them, and 13% said they did so often. Another 38% said they read them only sometimes, and 36% said they never read them.
Other findings from the survey respondents included the following:
- 21% have had fraudulent charges on their credit or debit card.
- 8% have had someone take over their social media or email accounts without their permission.
- 6% have had someone try to open a credit line or get a loan using their name.
- 63% said they understood very little or nothing at all about the laws and regulations in place to protect their data privacy.
- 49% said it was unacceptable for companies that make smart speakers to share audio recordings of customers with law enforcement to help with criminal investigations.
- 45% said it was unacceptable for social media companies to monitor user posts for signs of depression so they can identify people who are at risk of self-harm and connect them to counseling.
- 28% said they got a great deal or some personal benefit from companies’ collecting data; 23% said the same about government data collection.