Pew report finds that nobody feels safe online anymore

Steven Loeb · November 12, 2014 · Short URL:

91% say they have lost control of their data, while 80% fear advertisers accessing social media data

There is a price for progress and convenience. It's called your privacy. If we want to sit in our pajamas and shop online, we give up out credit card numbers. If we want to have more efficient healthcare, we give out medical data; If we want to push a few buttons on our phone so an Uber car can pick us up, or even if we just want to type in an address on our phones to get directions, we give out our location data. 

Aah the price of convenience.

Yet with all the data leaks, hackings and revelations about the government using the Internet to spy on people that have gone on in the last year, how can anyone feel truly safe on the Internet anymore? To wit: hundreds of thousands of Snapchat photos and videos were recently leaked through a breach of a third party app. Then there was the infamous nude celebrity photo hack that took place at the beginning of September, and the incident where Chinese hackers got access to the information for 4.5 million patients of Community Health Systems, one of the largest providers of general hospital healthcare services in the United States.

The answer is that they don't. A new report out from the Pew Research Center on Wednesday shows that a huge number number of people have simply lost faith in the largest Internet companies to protect them.

First things first: people are aware of what's going on. This is not a situation where only a handful of them even know about it. Of the 607 adults who participated, 43% had heard "a lot" about reports of government surveillance, while 44% said they heard a little. Only 5% did not know anything about it. So the vast majority are aware of the situation.

And nearly everyone who was asked said that they have now lost the ability to control their own data online, with 91% either agreeing, or strongly agreeing, they can't control how companies collect and use their personal information, while 88% said they thought that it would be hard to remove inaccurate information from the Internet.

Here is where it gets a little interesting: social media users have a lot of concern about these things. 80% said they had some concerns about third parties, such as advertisers, getting their  data, while 70% said that they had concerns about the government accessing their data. And 81% said they don't feel secure sharing information on social networks and 64% of those surveyed also said that they want the government to do more to regulate advertising.

At the same time, though, 55% of them still said that they agreed with this statement: “I am willing to share some information about myself with companies in order to use online services for free.”

I've always found it odd that people complain so much about social networks taking their data and selling it. I think they have been fairly upfront about doing this, and nobody is forcing anyone to give up any personal information about themselves. If anyone is worried, just get off of Facebook. Or don't put up any information that you're worried might get out.

Government surveillance, however, is another matter altogether and there are major concerns about this as well. 80% agreed that Americans should be concerned about the government’s monitoring of phone calls and Internet communications, while only 18% disagreed. Only 36% said it would be a good thing for someone to be keeping a more watchful eye on the Internet.

How pervasive has this lack of security become? 31% don't even feel secure using a landline phone!

And when it comes to the type of data that people are most afraid of sharing, social security numbers, health and medications, phone conversations, e-mails and physical location come out on top.

It's really interesting to me how much people say that they are worried about their information getting out, yet how many are still actively putting that information online anyway. It's almost as if people now feel its inevitable that their data is no longer private.

You have to wonder if, eventually, the scale is going to tip and people will actually start taking a more active role in protecting themselves.

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