More Americans living under cloud of ‘data insecurity’

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From gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance and behav­ior-based adver­tis­ing, to social media and search-engine track­ing, there are plen­ty of ways for Amer­i­cans to lose their pri­va­cy online. With such a long trail of dig­i­tal crumbs that online users leave behind, are they even wor­ried any­more about los­ing pri­va­cy, or is that par for the course in the dig­i­tal age?

Turns out, the major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans still place high val­ue on their pri­va­cy. Yet few are con­fi­dent that the enti­ties col­lect­ing the data can be trust­ed to keep it pri­vate and secure.

Those were the find­ings in a recent report by the Pew Research Cen­ter, “Amer­i­cans’ Atti­tudes About Pri­va­cy, Secu­ri­ty and Surveillance.”

How the USA FREEDOM Act impacts the pri­va­cy con­cerns of Amer­i­cans remains to be seen.

The leg­is­la­tion was approved by the U.S. Sen­ate on Tues­day. It already has been approved by the House, and Pres­i­dent Oba­ma has promised to sign it into law. The bill reforms the way the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency col­lects phone data — end­ing bulk sur­veil­lance, which was deemed ille­gal last month by a fed­er­al appeals court.

How­ev­er, the USA FREEDOM Act extends through 2019 sev­er­al oth­er top pro­vi­sions of the 2001 PATRIOT Act that expired on June 1.

(USA FREEDOM is an acronym for Unit­ing and Strength­en­ing Amer­i­ca by Ful­fill­ing Rights and End­ing Eaves­drop­ping, Drag­net-col­lec­tion and Online Monitoring.)

Secu­ri­ty & Pri­va­cy Week­ly News Roundup: Stay informed of key pat­terns and trends

The Cen­ter for Democ­ra­cy and Tech­nol­o­gy hailed the Sen­ate move as a vic­to­ry but called for fur­ther action from Congress.

Pas­sage of the USA FREEDOM Act is the most sig­nif­i­cant nation­al secu­ri­ty sur­veil­lance reform mea­sure in the past three decades,” said CDT Advo­ca­cy Direc­tor Harley Geiger in a state­ment, “but the bill does not solve all the prob­lems with surveillance.”

Watch­ers are watch­ing everywhere

Mean­while, the Pew report under­scores the citizenry’s sense of pow­er­less­ness regard­ing the enor­mous size of the data “warehouses”—maintained both by the gov­ern­ment and the com­mer­cial sectors.

Mary Mad­den and Lee Rainie, the authors of the report, wrote that events like the Snow­den rev­e­la­tions and mul­ti­ple retail secu­ri­ty breach­es “have con­tributed to a cloud of per­son­al ‘data inse­cu­ri­ty’ that now looms over many Amer­i­cans’ dai­ly deci­sions and activities.”

Using a recent study as well as pre­vi­ous sur­veys by Pew Research, the two authors found that Amer­i­cans still find pri­va­cy impor­tant “in their dai­ly lives in a num­ber of essen­tial ways.”

Yet, they have a per­va­sive sense that they are under sur­veil­lance when in pub­lic and very few feel they have a great deal of con­trol over the data that is col­lect­ed about them and how it is used,” they wrote.

Among Pew’s most recent findings:

  • Of the 461 adults sur­veyed, 74 per­cent felt it’s “very impor­tant” for them to con­trol who can get their infor­ma­tion, and anoth­er 19 per­cent find that “some­what important.”
  • The majority—65 percent—felt it’s “very impor­tant” to con­trol what infor­ma­tion is col­lect­ed, and anoth­er 25 per­cent that it’s “some­what important.”
  • Those sur­veyed had strong feel­ings about not hav­ing some­one watch­ing or lis­ten­ing to them with­out permission.

When it comes to the con­sumers’ trust in data col­lec­tors’ abil­i­ty to main­tain the pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty of the infor­ma­tion, how­ev­er, the num­bers were skewed to the oppo­site side of the scale in a sep­a­rate, ear­li­er Pew sur­vey of near­ly 500 adults.

Who’s in the driver’s seat?

Half of the respon­dents in that sur­vey felt they have “not much con­trol” (37 per­cent) or “no con­trol at all” (13 per­cent) over how their infor­ma­tion is being col­lect­ed and used.

Few­er than 10 per­cent felt “very con­fi­dent” about all cat­e­gories of enti­ties that col­lect data—with cred­it card com­pa­nies earn­ing the high­est trust (9 per­cent) and online video and social media sites as well as online adver­tis­ers hav­ing the most dis­mal rate (1 percent).

The num­bers of Amer­i­cans who felt “some­what con­fi­dent” in the same enti­ties ranged between 6 per­cent and 29 per­cent, once again with cred­it card com­pa­nies inspir­ing the most con­fi­dence. The 11 cat­e­gories also includ­ed land-line and mobile phone com­pa­nies, gov­ern­ment agen­cies, retail­ers and email providers.

Despite those feel­ings, the major­i­ty of the con­sumers haven’t changed their behav­ior to improve their pri­va­cy by doing things like clear­ing brows­er cook­ies and refus­ing to give infor­ma­tion not rel­e­vant to the transaction.

And a slim num­ber have encrypt­ed phone calls, text mes­sages or emails (10 per­cent), or used tools for surf­ing online anony­mous­ly (9 percent).

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, one area Amer­i­cans feel strong­ly about is lim­it­ing Inter­net and tele­phone data col­lect­ed by the gov­ern­ment. Pew found that the more Amer­i­cans knew about gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance, the less they felt in con­trol of their data.

More on emerg­ing pri­va­cy concerns
A call for a data breach warn­ing label
For­mer FTC con­sumer chief: pri­va­cy regs needed
Use of Ver­i­zon ‘zom­bie cook­ies’ halted