Americans Lose Faith in Institutions to Protect Data, Identities

A majority of Americans have personally experienced a major data breach and less than half trust social-media sites and the government to help them to protect their data and identities.

American Security Confidence 2

Americans have become resigned to the fact that the security of their data is beyond their control.

In a study released on Jan. 26, Pew Research found that 64 percent of Americans have personally experienced a data breach, including fraudulent charges on their credit cards, received notifications that their email or social-media accounts have been hacked or warned that their personal information had been exposed.

As a result, 51 percent of U.S. citizens do not trust social media sites to protect their information and 49 percent do not think the government can secure their data.

“People feel that they have lost control of their personal information in a lot of ways in the modern information environment,” Aaron Smith, associate director of Pew Research, told eWEEK.

“Whether we are talking about cyber-security or how advertisers use their data, people really feel like they have lost control of their information and they don’t have a lot of trust in the institutions that are the custodians of their data to protect the information.”

While U.S. citizens have resigned themselves to a world where their data is not well protected or controlled, however, they continue to fail to prioritize cyber-security on their own, according to Pew Research.

While cyber-security experts largely recommend the use of password-management software, for example, 69 percent of adults online are not worried about their passwords and only 12 percent at least occasionally use password-management software. The issue spans income and education levels, Smith said, with people who have college degrees and above using password-management software fewer than 20 percent of the time.

“Bad habits cross all sorts of demographic boundaries,” he said. “There is no one group of people that is consistently acing this test.”

While people tend to trust their cell phone manufacturers and credit-card companies to protect their information, the federal government and social-media sites were the least trusted.

“If you look at people who have had their social media accounts hacked or email account hacked, they are much less trusting of those institutions to protect their personal data,” Smith said. “That stands really in stark contrast compared to credit card companies. People who have encountered fraudulent transactions on their credit cards still trust the companies to protect their information.”

The survey also found that the debate over encryption largely splits over age groups, with younger Americans—those aged 18 to 29—supporting technology companies’ efforts to strengthen encryption by 49 percent, compared to 41 percent that agree that government should be able to break encryption to investigate crimes.

Older adults—aged 50 to 64, for example—tend to split the other way, with 50 percent supporting government access and 42 percent supporting efforts to make encryption unbreakable.

The survey shows that the debate remains contentious with no clear winner.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...