When it comes to their personal data, Americans just don’t trust private companies to do the right thing.
This altogether unsurprising revelation comes to us via a Nov. 15 study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. The report, which is based on a survey of 4,272 U.S. adults, paints a bleak picture both for tech giants like Google and Facebook as well as those of us who rely on the companies’ services.
People, it would seem, are fed up.
The question, of course, is whether or not anyone is going to do anything about it. If the Pew study is any indication, however, a significant percentage of Americans are absolutely hoping that someone will.
“When asked how much government regulation there should be around what companies can do with their customers’ personal information,” notes the study, “75% of adults say there should be more regulation than there is now.”
The 63-page report goes into striking detail about the specific level of mistrust Americans have for companies when it comes to the collection and use of their data. Perhaps partially informed by the never-ending series of Facebook scandals unearthed by journalists, a majority of people surveyed said they expect companies to cover up their misdeeds.
When asked whether they believe a company would “publicly admit mistakes and take responsibility when they misuse or compromise their users’ personal data,” a full 79 percent of respondents said they were “‘not too confident’ or ‘not confident at all’ about this.”
It’s hard to blame Americans for, essentially, paying attention — especially in the face of tech companies attempting to convince the public to simply look the other way and trust that everything will be just fine.
Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal — in which Facebook played fast and loose with consumers’ data, allowing it to be scraped and transferred to unscrupulous third parties — CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a concerted effort to let everyone know he cared and that things would get better.
“We have a responsibility to protect your data,” he wrote at the time, “and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.”
Today’s Pew study shows that, a year and a half later, people still aren’t buying that line.
What’s more, Americans are starting to realize they’re getting the short end of the data-exchange stick. Not only does the Pew report show they don’t trust companies to not abuse their access, they don’t see the benefit to handing over data in the first place.
“Roughly three quarters of adults say they benefit very little or none from the data that companies (72%) or the government (76%) collect about them,” notes the report.
This fact flies directly in the face of Zuckerberg’s repeated insistence that people appreciate the targeted advertising that is Facebook’s entire raison d’etre.
“[While] there is some discomfort for sure with using information in making ads more relevant,” Zuckerberg observed in an April, 2018, Senate hearing, “the overwhelming feedback that we get from our community is that people would rather have us show relevant content there than not.”
Except, as it turns out, not so much.
While today’s Pew Research Center study may project an aura of mistrust and fear, in many ways it serves as a genuine ray of hope. Americans have finally woken up to the fact that, when it comes to protecting their personal data, private companies are not to be trusted.
Collectively acknowledging we have a problem is a good first step. Now, let’s work on taking the next one together.