January 23, 2022

New Pew Internet Report Looks at Perceptions and Attitudes on Privacy and Government Surveillance in the U.S.

First, a Quick Comment From infoDOCKET Editor, Gary Price.

Will have more to say about this report soon but for now it’s necessary that the library community ask if we are doing all that we can do to protect the privacy of our users especially in the age of digital and mobile access to info? In my view the answer is no we are not.

In other words, the dedication and vigilance towards user privacy that library community has worked VERY hard at in the past (print, non-networked library) and has earned us accolades and the trust of users is not at the level that it should be in today’s digital world. Yes, it is more challenging but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to do all that we can in terms of awareness of issues, instituting policy and keeping them updated, using the best technology possible, educating ourselves and our users on privacy and related issues, working with vendors, and being as transparent as the library community asks of others.

Reader/user privacy is part of what libraries and librarians are about. If the profession sees this another way let’s discuss it and consider modifying of our ethics statement and policies.

If we do agree that library privacy is as much of an issue for our profession today has it has been in the past, it’s time to get to work.

Highlights and a link to the full text follows. Here’s one finding from the report I want to note.

When it comes to their own role in managing the personal information they feel is sensitive, most adults express a desire to take additional steps to protect their data online; 61% say they “would like to do more,” to protect the privacy of their personal information online while 37% say they “already do enough.”

“Far from being apathetic about their privacy, most Americans say they want to do more to protect it,” said Lee Rainie, Director of the Internet Project and a co-author of the study. “It’s also clear that different types of information elicit different levels of sensitivity among Americans.”

Privacy and Surveillance: Pew Internet Report (November 12, 2014)

A new survey finds that Americans’ perceptions of privacy are varied and reflect a wide array of concerns connected to government surveillance and commercial use of personal data. The majority of adults in a new survey by the Pew Research Center feel that their privacy is being challenged along such core dimensions as the security of their personal information and their ability to retain confidentiality.

These are among the findings of a new nationally representative survey of 607 adults that explores the public’s perceptions and attitudes towards privacy in light of the ongoing public debate about government surveillance programs in the U.S.

Key findings include:

• 80% of adults “agree” or “strongly agree” that Americans should be concerned about the government’s monitoring of phone calls and internet communications.

• 43% of adults in the survey have heard “a lot” about “the government collecting information about telephone calls, emails, and other online communications as part of efforts to monitor terrorist activity,” and another 44% have heard “a little.”

• Only 36% “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement: “It is a good thing for society if people believe that someone is keeping an eye on the things that they do online.”

At the same time, the survey finds a universal lack of confidence among adults in the security of everyday communications channels—particularly when it comes to the use of online tools:

• 81% of adults feel “not very” or “not at all secure” using social media sites when they want to share private information with another trusted person or organization.

• 68% feel insecure using chat or instant messages to share private information.

• 58% feel insecure sending private info via text messages.

• 57% feel insecure sending private information via email.

• 46% feel “not very” or “not at all secure” calling on their cell phone when they want to share private information.

• 31% feel “not very” or “not at all secure” using a landline phone when they want to share private information.

“One of the most notable findings in the study is that those who have heard the most about government surveillance are more privacy-sensitive across an array of questions in the survey,” said Mary Madden, Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and lead author of the report. “Those who are more aware of the monitoring programs feel considerably less secure using any communications channel to share private information.”

In the commercial context, consumers overwhelmingly feel as though they have lost control over the way their personal data is gathered and used by companies, and they support greater regulation of advertisers.

• 91% of adults in the survey “agree” or “strongly agree” that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.

• 64% believe the government should do more to regulate what advertisers do with customers’ personal information, compared with 34% who think the government should not get more involved.

Direct to Full Text Report: “Public Perceptions of Privacy and Security in the Post-Snowden Era”

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.