Americans don't trust government, companies to protect their data

Published May 21, 2015

Americans have little faith that the government or companies can keep their private records secure online, a new survey by the Pew Research Center shows.

Only 6 percent of respondents said there were "very confident" that government agencies can keep their records private and secure, while 31 percent said they were "not confident at all."

Landline telephone companies, which typically provide Internet service, didn't fare any better. Six percent of adults were "very confident" about security, while 29 percent were "not confident at all."

The results were even worse for social media sites and search engines. Among the survey's 959 participants, 45 percent and 41 percent, respectively, said they had no confidence the sites could keep their activity private.

The attitudes appear to be driven by news of government surveillance revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 and the cascade of data breaches at major retailers, health insurance companies and financial institutions, the report said.

"These events — and the doubts they inspired — have contributed to a cloud of personal 'data insecurity' that now looms over many Americans' daily decisions and activities," the Pew Research Center said.

Americans have responded by changing their habits online in hopes of enhancing their privacy.

The survey found 59 percent of adults clear cookies or browser history, 57 percent refuse to give information that isn't germane to a transaction, and 23 percent give false or misleading information.

A much smaller percentage of adults have gone as far as encrypting their communication activity (10 percent) or employing a proxy survey to use the Internet (9 percent).

The survey, titled "Americans' Attitudes About Privacy, Security and Surveillance," was conducted online in late 2014 and early 2015.