While global businesses have spent the past few years growing their understanding of data privacy—from the scope of personal data collection and dissemination to the legal ramifications resulting from it—American consumers have remained largely in the dark about the extent of personal surveillance. Now their unawareness is morphing into concern.
Roughly 8 in 10 Americans, or 81 percent of the U.S. public, believe they have very little or no control over the data companies collect about them, according to a Pew Research Center report. The adage “ignorance is bliss” no longer applies—this rampant sense of obliviousness surrounding personal data collection leaves Americans feeling both helpless and uneasy.
Sixty-two percent of the 4,272 Americans canvassed in the survey believe it’s not possible to go through daily life without companies collecting data about them. Beyond the paranoia—or, perhaps, a valid assumption—of round-the-clock data surveillance, a majority of Americans are doubtful companies are trustworthy enough to manage the troves of data they’re hoarding. Seventy-nine percent of respondents said they are not terribly or even remotely confident companies will admit mistakes and take responsibility if they misuse or compromise personal information, according to the report.
Whether it is a symptom of their hazy understanding of personal data collection (in terms of its scope and magnitude) or a variety of other factors placing the state of data privacy squarely in Americans’ line of vision, is up for debate. What is indisputable, though, is that the U.S. public is concerned: 70 percent believe their personal data is less secure today than it was five years ago.
Firms beefing up data privacy policies
Meanwhile, businesses worldwide have been making every effort to meet the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, and more than half a million U.S. companies (according to iapp.org) are preparing in earnest for the impact of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the States, set to take effect Jan. 1. No company wants to fall on the wrong side of either piece of legislation. As a result, compliance leaders and practitioners, along with their constituents in IT, legal, marketing, the C-suite and more, have toiled to get their organizations’ data inventory and privacy policies and procedures up to snuff.
Many U.S. consumers, in contrast, have chosen to stay in the dark about privacy issues, laws, and regulations.
Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of adults say they do not understand the laws or regulations that are currently in place to protect their data privacy, according to the survey. In addition, nearly half (43 percent) of U.S. adults said they don’t follow the news about privacy closely or at all.
Americans’ gut reaction to their own wariness seems to be that more government regulation is needed to control what companies can do with their personal data. Exactly three-quarters (75 percent) of surveyed Americans agree there should be more regulation in place than there is now.
What is the takeaway?
The answer might be to create better tools to help American consumers understand how their personal data is being collected. If Americans are given the right tools empowering them to control and safeguard their information, the tide of opinion could conceivably shift.
Indeed, when given a choice between more stringent government regulation and better tools, a slight majority of surveyed adults (55 percent) said they are more in favor of consumer tools to help safeguard their personal information.
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U.S. consumers express unease over personal data collection