Pew Study: Americans Fear They've Lost Control of Personal Data

A Pew Research study examined how Americans view the privacy of their personal information in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about online government snooping.

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Pew research

The Pew Research Internet Project published a study on Nov. 12 that reveals how distraught Americans have become about the privacy of their personal information.

According to the study, only 5 percent of respondents were not aware of U.S government programs to monitor American's calls and emails. U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden first revealed the existence of pervasive U.S. online spying efforts in June of 2013. The study is based on the analysis of a survey conducted in January of this year with a sample of 607 adults.

On the issue of government monitoring, 80 percent of the Pew study's respondents agreed with the statement that Americans should be concerned about the government's monitoring of phone calls and Internet communications.

Government monitoring isn't the only thing that Americans are worried about. The majority of those surveyed by Pew were also worried about their privacy online overall. The Pew study found that 91 percent of American adults surveyed agreed with the idea that they have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.

Fully 80 percent of respondents specifically reported they were concerned about how third parties are able to make use of personal information shared on social networking sites. To that end, the study found that the majority of respondents—64 percent—want the government to do more in terms of advertiser regulations.

Overall, there is a lack of confidence in the security and privacy of multiple forms of communications. Pew reported that 67 percent of respondents felt somewhat or very secure about using a landline. In contrast, only 40 percent of respondents felt secure about sending email and only 16 percent felt secure about using social media sites.

The study also provides insight into the types of information that Americans consider the most sensitive: 95 percent of respondents reported they considered their social security number to be somewhat or very sensitive.

In addition, 82 percent of respondents considered details of their physical location over time to be sensitive information. In contrast, only 41 percent of respondents considered data on their purchasing habits to be sensitive information.

It's important to note as well that in the wake of the Snowden disclosures, many American companies have taken steps to bolster privacy and transparency, especially in regards to government requests for information.

A report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), in May, found that many vendors including Apple, Credo Mobile, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sonic, Twitter and Yahoo had revised their policies about sharing information with government in the post-Snowden era.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.