A poll out Thursday from the Pew Research Center shows more Americans distrust sharing their personal information with social media companies, smart cars and homes than office surveillance cameras, retail loyalty programs and health services websites.
According to the study, 54 percent of American adults polled found the prospect of security cameras in their workplace capable of tracking employee performance and attendance with facial recognition technology and stockpiled footage “acceptable,” compared to 51 percent who said it was “not acceptable” to give up personal information in exchange for free use of a social media platform, which would use the data to target users with ads.
Only 24 percent found workplace cameras unacceptable, while 33 percent deemed social media in exchange for data collection and ad-targeting acceptable.
“Some of the marketing tracking things are creepy,” one focus group participant wrote. “I look at one thing online and then see it on every single site for weeks. At first — intriguing. Then creepy.”
Other chatter from respondents included teaching “the younger generations about BIG BROTHER” and “Orwell was a prophet.”
Of the 461 U.S. adults and nine online focus groups surveyed, many were divided on circumstances when they felt it appropriate to exchange personal information for something of value, even if that information was similar in different scenarios.
For example, 47 percent found it acceptable for a grocery store to track their shopping habits and sell the data to third parties in exchange for a free loyalty discount card. Only 32 percent of the same group found the exchange unacceptable compared to the 51 percent who found the similar social media exchange unacceptable.
Discounts on auto insurance weren’t incentive enough for 45 percent of respondents to allow their insurance company to place a device on their car capable of tracking driving habits, compared to 37 percent who approved.
U.S. adults disapproved most of a smart thermostat in their home, capable of saving users money on their energy bills in exchange for sharing data about basic activities in their home, including when people are present and their movement from room to room. Fifty-five percent rejected the exchange, while 27 percent approved.
Next to workplace cameras, Americans polled were most accepting of uploading their health records online via a secured website promoted by their doctor. In exchange for having access to their own records and easier scheduling, 52 percent were willing to put their records online, compared to 26 percent who were not.
The study also illustrated Americans’ concern with the prospect of hackers and scammers accessing their data.
“The ‘secure’ sites are continually making the news when they are hacked,” one respondent said. “We can have our information stolen from banks, credit card companies, hospitals … all secure … all hacked in the past. The more I ‘put it out there,’ the more likely my information will go somewhere hazardous to my well-being.”
The poll was released to coincide with the Federal Trade Commission’s first PrivacyCon — an all-day convention examining many of the issues highlighted in the Pew report, including companies’ increasing bulk collection of private user data, the privacy and security issues at play, and potential regulations the agency might adopt to protect consumers.
All-day panels discussed topics like users’ general unawareness of how much personal data companies are accumulating, dissecting lengthy user privacy agreements legalizing snooping and tracking behavior, the technology used to do so, its economic impact and future policy proposals on policing the use of big data, increasing Americans’ knowledge on what firms are doing with their data and ways to protect users’ privacy.
“Personal data is the new oil,” Alessandro Acquisti, professor of IT and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, said while presenting research on targeted advertising. “The lifeblood of the Internet.”
For many at the conference, that places a bigger burden on firms using the data as part of their business model to ensure users’ privacy and security.
“To quote Spider-Man,” said Jasmine McNealy, assistant professor in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communcations, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
The conference comes one week after the FTC released a landmark report warning companies to be careful of biases in their use of big data, ensure they aren’t omitting portions of the population big data fails to take into account and that predictions based on big data aren’t always conclusive.
“Companies should remember that while big data is very good at detecting correlations, it does not explain which correlations are meaningful,” the report said.