Americans’ attitudes towards privacy – U.S. survey
The U.S. still has no nationwide data privacy laws in 2022. Despite this lack of federal action, the issue of data privacy is becoming more prominent and is receiving more attention these days. To help us better understand users whose personal data is at risk, Incogni conducted a survey about Americans’ attitudes towards data privacy.
The questions covered topics such as:
- User experiences with online privacy and security threats
- User experiences with data removal
- Personal data collection
- Privacy protection and rights
- Privacy policies and safety
Our goal of the survey was to assess general user attitudes towards privacy in the U.S., test several hypotheses, and identify user trends.
The reality of the data privacy situation in America may be surprising.
List of figures
We surveyed 2310 Americans from across 6 U.S. states including New York, California, Colorado, Florida, Texas, and Virginia. The ages ranged from 18 to 65+, with a roughly equal representation of male and female respondents.
To provide further context for the user attitudes demonstrated in this survey, we also included statements about personal experience.
We wanted to gauge how many of the respondents experienced data security and privacy threats and how many attempted or succeeded in removing their data from companies that collect it.
When it came to online security, the vast majority of our survey respondents had experienced problems in the past.
- Almost all (97%) have received spam emails,
- Almost all (94%) have received robocalls,
- Most (90%) have experienced attempts to scam,
- The majority (79%) have experienced personal data breaches.
This indicates a real and serious threat to online security and privacy in the U.S.
Despite the fact that most respondents have experienced data privacy and security threats, most haven’t tried to remove their personal data. Only 17% attempted to do it at least once. However, of those that did try to remove their personal information, most agreed that their attempts were successful and at least fairly easy.
User attitude towards privacy
Personal data collection
A large percent (68%) of all the Americans surveyed agreed or partially agreed that their data is being collected online by private companies. However, only 24% trust these companies to use their data ethically.
This evident gap between the belief that their data is being collected and distrust of the companies that collect their data is the largest among respondents who were 65+ and older.
While this indicates that most Americans view their data being collected as a problematic issue, the majority don’t know exactly who collects their data and whether they can do anything about it. Only 37% of users had heard of data brokers, while only 45% of those were aware of the possibility to request data removal.
Privacy protection and rights
Looking from a rights and regulations point of view, the responses were even more polarized. 71% stated that tech companies should be more regulated when handling private data. At the same time, only 20% agreed that the government is doing enough to protect their privacy.
Interestingly, while 56% of respondents stated that they were aware of their right to online privacy, only 31% knew what laws ensure these rights.
This means that a relatively high percentage of users believe firmer regulations should be enforced while only few are aware of satisfied with the laws in place to protect them.
Privacy policies and safety
Our survey revealed that cybercrime anxiety is very high among Americans. 70% believe that they can be targeted by cybercriminals and 59% worry about online safety.
However, this doesn’t appear to translate into privacy practice awareness, especially among older internet users. Only 39% of those who responded to our survey agreed that they read privacy policies, know what cookies are, and know what to do in case their personal information is stolen.
Biggest differences by demographics
There were some significant differences in the survey results that should be taken into consideration. These differences were recorded based on the age, sex, and home state of the respondents.
Residents of Colorado are aware that their data is being sold by private companies more than residents of the other states we have surveyed. Despite this fact, they are the least aware of any services that can help them remove their personal data.
When it comes to understanding how their personal data is being collected online, there was a notable gap between Floridians and Coloradans (around 60% and 46% respectively).
The survey revealed that Floridians know best what to do when personal information is stolen.
The biggest differences in response were due to age. The two statements most affected by this variable were:
- I know how to practice my right to privacy online.
- Privacy protection laws in my state are adequate.
In both instances, the youngest age bracket (18 – 24-year-olds) agreed the most, while the oldest age bracket (65+) agreed the least.
Only 42% of the oldest respondents stated that they know how to practice their right to privacy online, compared to 72% of the youngest. While across the board all users disagreed that the privacy laws in their state are adequate, the answers still varied by age (16% of the oldest respondents and 37% of the youngest).
There was also a significant discrepancy between the sexes. The three statements most affected by this variable were:
- My personal data is being sold by private companies.
- I have heard of data brokers.
- I know services that can help remove my data.
Men agreed more than women to each of these statements, suggesting that there is a gender gap in online privacy awareness.
We were able to draw several conclusions from the responses collected by this survey. We identified 3 notable user trends and were able to prove 3 hypotheses made prior to conducting the survey.
- Most users are aware that data is collected,
- Most users feel that privacy protection laws are lacking,
- Most users feel unsafe online.
Respondents who believe that personal data is being sold by private companies are more likely to read privacy policies before signing up for any service,
Respondents who understand how data brokers may use their personal data are more likely to agree that tech companies should be more regulated when handling users’ private data,
Respondents who understand how their personal data is being collected online are more likely to ask businesses to remove their personal data and opt out.