Survey: Americans Prefer Security Over Privacy

The fear of getting hacked may outweigh the fear of being tracked.


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New research shows Americans are more concerned about being hacked and having their data compromised than they are about shielding their activity from marketers and government officials. They also believe more should be done to prevent data breaches from happening.

According to a survey published last week by the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), 80 percent of voters are more worried about becoming the victim of online theft than they are about having their shared data used to create targeted advertisements. In contrast, only 16 percent were more concerned about the latter.

The report comes in the wake of a massive data breach at retail giant Target, in which some 40 million credit and debit card accounts were stolen.

“By wide margins this survey clearly shows that ID theft has touched the majority of consumers in some way, and that hacking is more worrisome to consumers than tracking,” said Ed Black, president and CEO of the CCIA, in a statement.

Additionally, nearly three-quarters of respondents (74 percent) agreed that the federal government needs to do more to prevent identity theft and personal data breaches.

"ID theft has touched the majority of consumers in some way,” said Ed Black, president and CEO of the CCIA.

“Voters want the government to more aggressively go after cyber criminals,” Black added.

But the report suggests most consumers are not relying on the government alone to protect their financial data, and have taken steps to protect such information. A large majority of respondents (76 percent) claimed they use a different password for each service, while a smaller majority (57 percent) have signed up for some sort of two-step sign-in process.


Credit card fraud is making the news with some regularity, and incidents are likely to increase in the coming years. [Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Lance Cpl. Brandon R. Holgersen]

Despite some aversion to marketing practices, respondents agreed that a free internet with targeted advertising would be preferable to a paid service with no ads—by a factor of two to one. Additionally, only 3 percent cited online tracking by advertisers as their chief privacy and security concern, compared to the 58 percent who pointed to personal data theft.

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It should be noted, however, that the CCIA—although having advocated for net neutrality and patent reform—has a vested interest in downplaying the threat of tracking by advertisers, as some of its members include eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Many of those companies offer ad-tracking services.

Respondents agreed that a free internet with targeted advertising would be preferable to a paid service with no ads.

What’s perhaps most interesting about the study is that, despite the slew of recent headlines surrounding the NSA and government surveillance, only 15 percent of respondents cited it as their top privacy and security concern.

The figures likely point to a pervasive cultural attitude regarding internet privacy—one that stresses the individual over the collective. Whereas excessive government surveillance is very much a long-term societal concern, data breaches are short-term and personal; they can directly and immediately compromise your financial well-being.

But challenges to both individual privacy and security are only going to soar in coming years. For privacy advocates, there’s the threat of brands using complex algorithms to scan Facebook photos and determine their cultural demographic. For those more concerned with security, there’s the threat of hackers using sound waves to breach computers that aren’t even connected to a network. Those are just a couple examples of the ways in which hackers and marketers alike are innovating for the future, and responding to heightened security measures.

Hero image: Flickr user "rosengrant" (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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