Data Privacy

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Data Privacy: US Consumer General Perceptions

U.S. consumers have varying perceptions of data privacy. These perceptions touch on several aspects such as sharing personal data, being in control of data privacy, the value of consumer digital footprint, and how companies handle personal information. Here is a summary of these perceptions.

Sharing Personal Data

  • According to Factual, young generations are less concerned about data privacy and are likely to share personal information if it will result in the improved consumer experience.
  • A survey done by the company revealed that if consumers knew the benefits they will get by sharing data and that their information will be safe, then they will be willing to share personal details with technology companies.
  • 82% of Americans are worried about data privacy and online security. Their top three concerns are identity theft and harm (72%), stolen passwords (64%), and not knowing what companies use their personal information for (59%).
  • Consumers consider address and contact information to be more sensitive than data related to their internet browsing habits. Location data comes a distant fourth after birthdate in order of classification as personal information.
  • Moreover, consumers fear that revealing their location data can lead to identity theft and fraud (63%), disclosure of home address (63%), anxiety of not knowing what the information is being used for (56%), and illegal use of data to cause digital or physical harm (48%).

Taking Control of Data Privacy

  • Generally, consumers feel that it is important to take control of their data privacy. They achieve this by adjusting mobile privacy settings (49%), adjusting social media privacy settings (48%), scrutinizing privacy agreements (46%), adjusting mobile location sharing settings (41%), using ad-blocking software (29%), disabling cookies (27%), and providing false information to companies (13%).
  • In another consumer data privacy survey by Cisco, 57% of respondents felt that they could protect personal data today.
  • 43% of the consumers felt that it was not possible to effectively protect their personal information with 52% of the respondents being 55 years old and above.
  • The reasons that they provide for this feeling are that they have to accept companies to access their data if they are to access certain services (49%), others felt that the firms already had their data (49%), while others didn't trust companies to respect their data privacy policies (41%).

Companies and Personal Data

  • There is growing concern among 95% of American consumers that companies are collecting and selling their personal information without their consent.
  • Social media platforms are viewed as possible channels that businesses use to collect consumer data.
  • 80% of consumers on social media feel that companies access the data they share on these platforms.
  • 55% of U.S. consumers feel that the responsibility of protecting personal data on online platforms falls on the companies that collect it.

Value of Consumer Digital Footprint

  • While most consumers view their data as sensitive, they vastly undervalue its worth. According to PR Newswire, 60% of consumers are willing to share personal data for free or at a fee as low as $10.
  • Consumers underestimate the value companies generate by using the data obtained from their digital footprint. Only a third of consumers value their online data at $100,000 to priceless.
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Data Privacy: Regulation Perceptions

US consumers want data privacy regulations, they admire the privacy laws overseas and want access to those types of controls when dealing with companies at home. Full details about American perceptions of data privacy laws are presented below.

State Laws

  • 2018 marked Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); other countries began their own processes. In the US, California and Vermont passed privacy acts for consumers in that same year.
  • In 2019, there was a "significant increase in bill introductions addressing various aspects of data privacy" when compared with previous years. These states and territories made legislative changes or have pending legislation: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Puerto Rico, New York, and Nevada.

Americans Desire Regulations

  • Regarding a Pew Research survey on data privacy, one expert had this to say about American preferences for data policies: "'Clearly this survey adds up to a portrait of distress and a willingness to hear about policy options," says Lee Rainie, director of Internet and technology research at the Pew Research Center. 'The panoramic picture it paints is a society that is not happy ... they are concerned. They don't feel that they have control. They don't think the benefits outweigh the risks anymore.'"
  • The top 3 consumer expectations for companies in response to privacy regulation includes updating data protection policies, ceasing to sell data to other companies, and increasing transparency on data collection and use.
  • In the Pew survey, 75% of respondents felt companies should be more regulated when it comes to data privacy.
  • According to a survey of 600 American adults, 77.1% believe they are being tracked by technology companies, and 71.9% favor federal data privacy laws. Only 28.1% did not favor the laws.
  • A SAS survey of 525 US adult consumers, found that 67% of US consumers think the government should be doing more to protect data privacy.


  • "Cindy Provin, chief executive officer at nCipher Security says: 'Government mandates such as GDPR and the [California Consumer Privacy Act], which are fundamentally designed to discourage the misuse of data, give consumers the reassurances they want. There’s an unprecedented awareness of the importance of data security, with business customers and consumers alike demanding trust, integrity, and control when it comes to how companies manage their data.'"
  • One year after GDPR was instituted, a HubSpot survey of 1,115 US and EU participants revealed only 53% of American consumers believe the US should institute something like the GDPR even though many more Americans than Europeans felt GDPR improved their interactions with companies.
  • Only 43.3% of US survey respondents believe GDPR has had a positive impact on consumer data, however.
  • 83% of survey respondents who think the US needs more data privacy regulation also would like the right to tell a company or organization not to share or sell their personal data.
  • Along those same lines, 73% would like laws granting the right to ask how their data is being used, and 64% would like the right to have data deleted or erased.

Putting the Blame on Tech

  • As Americans have dealt with issues and controversies around digital privacy, made-up news, online harassment, and other data-based issues, their attitudes about tech companies have "declined sharply since 2015."
  • In 2015, 72% of American adults thought tech companies were making a positive impact on the country; by 2020, that figure plummeted to 50%. Technologists, however, tend to feel optimistic about their impact on the country.
  • American perceptions of tech should have a mellowing effect considering that 51% believe major tech companies need more regulation in the areas of privacy and data security.

Expert Projection

  • According to Mitchell Noordyke, CIPP/E, CIPP/US, CIPM with the International Association of Privacy Professionals, "'the sheer number of states working on comprehensive privacy legislation suggests that there will be at least one or two more states with comprehensive privacy laws in the next couple years.'"

Additional Details

  • This resource should be especially noted as it contains a historical detailing of surveys about data privacy and an analysis of survey results over time. While the resource, Electronic Privacy Information Center, has a strong opinion about privacy, its data appears intact, objective, and might be of value.
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Data Privacy: Data Collection Perceptions

Most U.S. consumers have a negative perception of data collection by social media companies and advertisers. While more Americans are willing to give up some privacy to get more personalized ads, the majority of survey respondents are not swayed by that trade off. More details about U.S. consumer perceptions around data collection by social media companies and advertisers are below.

Overall Perception

  • Overall, 40% of Americans are "concerned a lot" about their personal information that social media sites are collecting.
  • This percentage is even higher than the percentage of people who are "concerned a lot" about the personal information that advertisers are collecting (39%).
  • The Center for Data Innovation found that 79.8% of Americans want companies like Facebook to collect less data about them, but only 26.7% are willing to pay a monthly subscription fee to get that protection.
  • Only 27.2% of Americans are willing to see more ads than usual in exchange for more privacy.
  • While 74% of Americans are opposed to having more data collected about them, that number drops to 63% if they receive more targeted and personalized ads in exchange for increased data collection. It drops even further to 56% if they receive more features and free apps in exchange for their data.

No Trust

  • According to Pew Research, about half of Americans do not trust social media companies to keep their data private.
  • Specifically, 24% of Americans are not at all confident and 27% are not too confident that social media sites will keep their data private.
  • In a poll conducted by Reuters, 51% of respondents said they do not trust Facebook.
  • Only 8% of respondents to an ExpressVPN survey said they trust Twitter and just 6% said they trust Snapchat.

No Control

  • Only 16% of Americans believe they have "a lot of control" over the data and information that social media sites collect on them. What's more is that 35% believe they have no control at all.
  • However, 74% of Americans say that it is very important to have that control over who is able to obtain their information.
  • One woman's definition of privacy was: "That I am in complete control of my personal information."
  • One man's definition of privacy was: "Having control and ownership of my online data. Have control and the ability to delete information I have not explicitly given the right to use or disseminate."

Want to do More

  • Over 60% of Americans want to do more to protect their privacy and 64% say that advertisers need to have more regulation in terms of privacy protection.
  • Moreover, 86% of Americans have taken steps in an attempt to be anonymous online and "hiding from advertisers" was a top reason given for wanting to be anonymous.
  • Three-quarters of Americans indicated they would accept more general ads on Facebook and other social media in exchange for the companies collecting less data about them.
  • One 55-year-old woman stated, "I should be able to surf the web and do it anonymously."

It's Inevitable

  • More than 60% of Americans believe it is impossible to go through a day without having their information collected from companies.
  • Even more people (72%) say that "all, almost all or most of what they do online or while using their cellphone is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies."
  • Some people believe that privacy online does not exist. For instance one woman stated, "Digital privacy does not exist, in my opinion. Once one puts something on a computer that is connected to the internet, privacy is compromised and no longer ‘private.’"
  • A man agreed, saying, "Nothing…. No matter what type of security you think you have, any hacker that wants in will get in. Just a matter of time in my opinion."

Risks Outweigh Benefits

  • Over 80% of Americans say the risks of collecting data by companies outweigh the benefits.
  • Additionally, 72% believe that data collection by companies does not benefit them personally.

Lack of Knowledge

  • Most people (59%) say they do not understand what companies do with the data they collect and 79% are concerned about what companies actually do with the information.
  • Only 3% of Americans say they understand privacy laws a "great deal" and just 33% say they understand them somewhat.
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Data Privacy: Thought Leaders

Thought leaders advise consumers to be concerned about the use of their data and some say that society is not well-informed about what happens to their data. A collection of thought leaders' statements on data privacy and its impact on society is provided below.

Keith Johnson

  • Keith Johnson stated: "I have seen that consumers are beginning to understand that data is the currency that makes free or near-free services possible, and they’re thinking carefully about the tradeoffs of sharing personal information."
  • Johnson is the chief product officer of GutCheck and has over 15 years of experience building new businesses and data strategies.

Kavya Pearlman

  • Kavya Pearlman said: "The key aspect that is bound to change is consumers will come to expect a higher degree of accountability and privacy when sharing information online. I believe, in the next 10 years, privacy would not just be a thing for legal experts to navigate and keep an organization 'compliant'."
  • Pearlman is a thought leader in privacy and is the information security director at Linden Lab.

Howard Pull

  • Howard Pull stated: "In an economy where data flows like water, brand trust is the highest ranked factor in users’ willingness to share data... Decentralized services give people the power to hold their own data, only choosing to share with brands they respect."
  • Pull is the strategic development director at MullenLowe Profero.

Robin Andruss

  • When asked how concerned should people be with their privacy, Robin Andruss said: "So just think about, really, what you’re putting out there, and why, and this third party you’re giving your information to when you are giving it away."
  • Andruss is the director of privacy at Twilio.

Tomas Sander

  • Tomas Sander stated: "I think people should be deeply concerned about privacy...It’s big data about your web browsing, your searches, location data, the data you share on social media, there might be facial recognition from images, and also these days IoT and smart home data that give people intimate insights into what’s happening in your home."
  • He also stated: "So even sharing relatively innocent data allows to make a lot of sensitive inferences. And yes, we should be very concerned about this because this could really change the way society works."
  • Sander is the data protection officer at Intertrust.

Katrina Dow

  • Katrina Dow said: "I think the biggest challenge right now is that people just don’t understand what goes on under the surface...people don’t read the terms and conditions. People don’t understand the consequences of something that I do right now, that’s digital, and what it might impact some time in the future."
  • Dow is the CEO of Meeco.

Brandon Starkoff

  • Brandon Starkoff said: "Impending regulations will strengthen innovation through collaboration. It will force platforms to focus on a more discretely defined value exchange for users...Finally, it won't change the reality that younger generations are increasingly comfortable sharing their data to get a better user experience."
  • Starkoff is CEO of Transparent Partners.

Ashish Singhal

  • Ashish Singhal stated: "Companies have to view this from the consumer perspective, taking into consideration the reputational damage caused by the flippant security procedures of the last decade, and understand that the measures they take to protect our data are part of how we’re going to judge them. Distributed ledgers will put the user back in the driver’s seat of their data and security -and by design, ensure user data is protected, give users ownership of their data, and deter hackers as there is no single point of attack."
  • Singhal is CEO and Co-Founder at and CRUXPay.

Bart Huffman

  • Bart Huffman stated: "as we increasingly become a society where use of information technology is not really a choice, and where data generation, distribution, and storage are not really controllable or understood."
  • Huffman is a partner in Reed Smith’s global IP, Tech & Data Group.

Lauren Smith

  • Lauren Smith said: "Cars are no longer simply mechanical chassis that take us from point A to point B. It’s time for people to treat their cars like a computer or a smartphone. If you sell your car or return your rental car, you should think about which data you might want to delete."
  • Smith is a U.S. data privacy expert and policy counsel at the Future of Privacy Forum.