Washington, DC, January 7, 2022 - A new Ipsos poll finds that the majority of Americans think that having control over who can access their personal information online has become increasingly difficult. Despite this concern, few do much to protect their online data and privacy. Even those who take many steps to protect their own personal information online feel that it is becoming harder to control who can access it.
Americans are generally hesitant about giving companies access to their personal data or online activity for free access to social media apps and online search engines, or seeing personalized ads. But those who take more steps to protect their data are more willing to make this trade off. Americans, despite reporting high levels of familiarity with the concept of data privacy, do not differentiate between data privacy and data security, indicating that they think of these concepts as the same thing.
1. Most Americans say it has become increasingly difficult to control who can access their personal information online, and few think companies adequately protect their users’ online data.
- Seven in ten (70%) Americans agree that controlling who can access their online personal information has become more challenging.
- Only a third (34%) think that companies generally do a good job of keeping their users’ personal information secure.
2. Despite concern over who can access their personal information online, most Americans are not doing much to secure their own data.
- While most say they frequently take basic precautions, such as keeping the software on their device(s) up to date (84%) and using different passwords for different online accounts (79%), fewer report taking further steps, such as using a VPN when using public Wi-Fi networks (36%) or using encrypted messaging platforms (36%).
- Just 16% say they often or sometimes take all six steps asked about in the survey to keep their data secure and protect their online privacy, while a third (31%) take four or five out of six steps, and almost half (49%) take three or fewer.
- Regardless of how many steps are taken to keep personal information secure, those who take all six (74%), four or five (73%), or three or fewer steps (71%) believe that it has become increasingly difficult to control who has access to their personal information online.
- Half (51%) of Americans have never stopped using a company’s products or services due to data privacy concerns. However, a sizeable minority (36%) say they have done so.
3. Americans are generally hesitant about giving up their online personal data for free access to social media and online search engines.
- Only about a quarter of Americans agree that allowing companies to collect and share their online data is worth having free access to online search engines (27%) and social media apps (26%), or seeing personalized advertisements (23%).
- Those who take all six steps to protect their own online data and privacy are more willing to grant companies access to it in order to use social media apps (41%) and online search engines (39%) for free and to see personalized ads (38%).
- Comparatively, only about one in five who take three or fewer steps to protect their data agree that using social media and online search engines for free or seeing personalized ads (19%, 20%, and 16%, respectively) is worth the tradeoff.
4. While most Americans claim to be familiar with data privacy, few make the distinction between data privacy and data security, suggesting that Americans generally think of these concepts as the same thing.
- Three in four (76%) Americans report familiarity with the concept of data privacy, but just three in ten (31%) say they are very familiar.
- Over half (58%) of those who take all six steps to protect their own personal data say they are very familiar with data privacy, compared to 38% of those who take four or five steps and 19% who take three or fewer steps.
- When thinking of the term “data privacy,” Americans most often think of taking steps to protect their own personal data (88%), and three quarters (75%) often or sometimes think of companies protecting personal data from unauthorized access. However, both of these items describe data security rather than data privacy.
- About eight in ten (78%) say they often or sometimes think of requiring companies to have user consent to collect and share their data, and about seven in ten say the same about being able to remain anonymous online (71%) and being able to remove personal data about themselves from the internet (70%).
About the Study
These are the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between December 2 – 3. For this survey, a sample of 1,005 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii was interviewed online in English.
The sample was randomly drawn from Ipsos’ online panel, partner online panel sources, and “river” sampling and does not rely on a population frame in the traditional sense. Ipsos uses fixed sample targets, unique to each study, in drawing a sample. After a sample has been obtained from the Ipsos panel, Ipsos calibrates respondent characteristics to be representative of the U.S. Population using standard procedures such as raking-ratio adjustments. The source of these population targets is U.S. Census 2018 American Community Survey data. The sample drawn for this study reflects fixed sample targets on demographics. Posthoc weights were made to the population characteristics on gender, age, race/ethnicity, region, and education.
Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online non-probability polls. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error and measurement error. Where figures do not sum to 100, this is due to the effects of rounding. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all respondents. Ipsos calculates a design effect (DEFF) for each study based on the variation of the weights, following the formula of Kish (1965). This study had a credibility interval adjusted for design effect of the following (n=1,005, DEFF=1.5, adjusted Confidence Interval=+/-5.0 percentage points).
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