3 in 4 Adults Feel They Have Little to No Control Over Their Personal Data

November 6, 2023

This article is included in these additional categories:

Brand-Related | Customer-Centric | Data-driven | Digital | Personalization | Privacy & Security | Regulatory | Social Media

The state of data privacy in the US is… not good. Some 81% of adults surveyed by the Pew Research Center say they’re either very (35%) or somewhat (46%) concerned about how companies are using the data they collect about them, and about three-quarters (74%) think they have either very little (51%) or no (23%) control over the data that companies collect about them.

This is not a uniquely American issue, as 8 in 10 adults around the world agree that they would like more control over their identities on the internet. Even so, 1 in 6 American adults are simply resigned to losing ownership of their data, and data security has become the leading factor for Americans’ trust in businesses.

Unfortunately, that trust isn’t really there. While almost 8 in 10 adults (78%) surveyed by Pew trust themselves to make the right decisions about their personal information, fully 61% are skeptical that anything they do will make much difference. That figure rises to 70% among those with a College education or more. Moreover, just 1 in 5 (21%) are confident that those who have access to their personal information will do what’s right.

When it comes to social media, 8 in 10 have very little (34%) or no (43%) trust at all that company leaders will publicly admit mistakes and take responsibility when they misuse or compromise users’ personal data. Likewise, more than three-quarters (76%) have very little (30%) or no (46%) trust at all that social media companies will not sell users’ personal data to others without their consent.

The results paint a picture of a population that feels at once powerless, distrustful, and concerned. Only 29% feel like privacy is not that big of a deal to them, and 84% report being either very (42%) or somewhat (42%) worried about companies selling their information to others without them knowing.

This has strong implications for brands: about half (49%) of adults said they have stopped using a digital device, website or app because they were worried about how their personal information was being used.

Marketers are engaging in a variety of actions to try to increase trust in their brand in the face of privacy concerns, according to previous research. The most common action is to promise not to sell customers’ personal information, as reported by 63% of CMOs in the US. Almost 6 in 10 (58%) likewise say that they ask consumers to consent to their company’s use of their data (“informed consent”).

Privacy policies are not the answer, according to the adults surveyed by Pew. The majority (61%) of respondents think that privacy policies are not too effective (36%) or not at all effective (25%) as a way for companies to communicate how they’re using people’s data. Indeed, privacy policies are much more likely to be viewed as “just something I have to get past in order to use a product or service” (69%) than “a meaningful part of my decision to use a product or service” (27%). As such, most (57%) respondents click “agree” right away, without reading what the policies have to say, either always, almost always (31%) or often (26%).

Meanwhile, although two-thirds (67%) of adults feel they understand very little (49%) or nothing (18%) about what companies are doing with the data they collect about them, they do have opinions about what constitutes satisfactory use and what doesn’t.

Among the use cases presented, more respondents feel that it’s unacceptable (48%) than acceptable (41%) that social media companies analyze what people do on their sites to deliver personalized content. Additionally, more feel that it’s unacceptable (45%) than acceptable (41%) that a smart speaker analyzes people’s voices to learn to recognize who’s speaking.

With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), things aren’t likely to get better. Among respondents who have heard a lot or a little about AI, 71% trust companies very little (41%) or not at all (30%) to make responsible decisions about how they use AI in their products. Moreover, 8 in 10 feel that as companies use AI to collect and analyze personal details and information, this information will definitely (40%) or probably (41%) be used in ways that people would not be comfortable with.

It comes as little surprise, then, that 72% of respondents believe there should be more government regulation than now of what companies can do with their customers’ personal information.

For more, see the full report here.

About the Data: The results are based on a May survey of 5,101 US adults (18+).


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