Americans are Increasingly Unlikely to Trust the Federal Government with Personal Info

    NEW YORK , N.Y. – August 7 , 201 4 It seems that lately, privacy and personal data have been permanent fixtures in the news cycle. Between revelations of government snooping, consumer data breaches, and social media experiments, it can be tough to trust anyone with your personal information these days. In fact, only four in ten American adults (40%) trust the federal government to handle personal information confidentially and securely, while six in ten (60%) don’t trust it. This mistrust, which rose by six percentage points from 2009 (46%) to 2013 (52%), has grown by an additionaleight percentage points in just the past year. Americans have also grown more mistrustful of state and local governments in this regard (from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2013 and 54% in 2014).

    So, who do Americans trust to properly handle this type of information? Majorities trust health providers (76%), major online retailers (70%) banks/brokerage companies (65%), small/local brick and mortar retailers (64%), chain/big box brick and mortar retailers (59%) and small and/or independent online retailers (52%) to handle personal information in a properly confidential and secure manner. Trust in social networking sites (26%), in turn, lags well behind the level of trust observed for the federal government.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,306 U.S. adults surveyed online from July 16 to 21, 2014.

    Suspicious minds – some more than others

    Americans’ attitudes toward the government tend to fluctuate greatly along political lines, and this issue is no different: majorities of Republicans and Independents don’t trust either the federal government (71% Republicans, 66% Independents) or state and local governments (60% and 61%, respectively) to handle their personally identified information in a properly confidential and secure manner. On the other hand, majorities of Democrats do trust both the federal government (56%) and state/local governments (60%) to do so.

    Millennials are significantly more likely than their elders to trust both the federal government (47% Millennials vs. 38% Gen Xers, 37% Baby Boomers and 32% Matures) and state/local governments (52% vs. 40%, 44% and 41%, respectively) to handle their personal info confidentially and securely; the same holds true for social networking sites (37% vs. 26%, 20% and 13%, respectively). On the other end of the age spectrum, Matures are more likely than their younger counterparts to have this sort of trust in banks and brokerage companies (78%, vs. 66% Baby Boomers, 60% Gen Xers and 63% Millennials), though it should be noted that a strong majority of Americans do trust such institutions across generational lines.

    Threat assessments

    As seen in 2013, the vast majority of Americans – nearly nine in ten (88% in both 2013 and 2014) – see cyber-criminals as a threat to their privacy, making this group the top perceived threat among all those tested. Social networking sites continue to be the next strongest perceived threat, with three-fourths (76%, up from 70% in 2013) perceiving such sites as threats to their privacy.

    Strong – and growing – majorities of Americans also feel their privacy is threatened by both government agencies (federal – 68%, up from 60%; state local – 64%, up from 56%) and camera-equipped devices in the hands of their fellow Americans (wearable tech devices – 68%, up from 63%; phones – 67%, up from 59%). Search and portal sites round out Americans top perceived threats to their privacy (65%, up from 53%).

    When asked which represents the greatest threat to their privacy – cyber-criminals, the federal government, or their fellow Americans (with access to camera-equipped devices) – over six in ten Americans specify cyber-criminals (62%). However, three in ten (29%) point to the federal government as the greatest threat to their privacy, with Republicans (35%) and Independents (36%) more than twice as likely as Democrats (16%) to do so.

    Corporations getting mixed messages

    Americans continue to show mixed attitudes in regards to corporate America’s use of access to and use of consumers’ personal info. While three-fourths (76%, in line with 75% last year) believe that consumers have lost all control over how personal information is collected and used by companies, seven in ten (71%, up from 64%) believe that most businesses handle the personal information they collect about consumers in a proper and confidential way. Over half (54%, up from 49%) believe that existing laws and organizational practices provide a reasonable level of protection for consumer privacy today.

    Consumer caution

    Four in ten Americans (40%) indicate that they’re making more purchases with cash due to being worried about credit card/ID theft, with Millennials and Gen Xers showing especially strong likelihoods to agree with this sentiment (45% each, vs. 37% Baby Boomers and 29% Matures). Additionally, over a third of Americans (36%) say they’re shopping online less due to security concerns.

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    TABLE 1a

    TRUSTING ORGANIZATIONS TO HANDLE PERSONAL INFORMATION PROPERLY

    Thinking of something else, how much trust do you have in each of the following to handle your personally identified information (such as credit card information, contact information and so forth) in a properly confidential and secure manner?

    Base: U.S. adults

    Trust (NET)

    A Great Deal of Trust

    Some Trust

    Don’t Trust (NET)

    Not Much Trust

    No Trust at all

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Health providers, such as doctors and hospitals

    76

    21

    55

    24

    17

    6

    Major online retailers (e.g., Amazon, eBay)

    70

    14

    56

    30

    22

    8

    Banks and brokerage companies

    65

    16

    49

    35

    24

    11

    Small/Local brick and mortar retailers

    64

    9

    55

    36

    26

    10

    Chain/Big box brick and mortar retailers (e.g., Target, Walmart)

    59

    8

    51

    41

    29

    12

    Small and/or independent online retailers

    52

    5

    47

    48

    36

    12

    Search and Portal sites (e.g., Google, Yahoo!)

    47

    7

    40

    53

    34

    20

    State and local governments

    46

    7

    38

    54

    33

    21

    The federal government

    40

    9

    31

    60

    29

    30

    Social networking sites (like Facebook or MySpace)

    26

    3

    23

    74

    35

    39

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


    TABLE 1b

    TRUSTING ORGANIZATIONS TO HANDLE PERSONAL INFORMATION PROPERLY

    Summary of A great deal of trust + Some trust

    by Generation & Political Party

    Thinking of something else, how much trust do you have in each of the following to handle your personally identified information (such as credit card information, contact information and so forth) in a properly confidential and secure manner?

     

    Base: U.S. adults

    2014 Total

    2013 Total

    2009 Total

    Generation

    Political Party

    Millennials (18-37)

    Gen X (38-49)

    Baby Boomers (50-68)

    Matures (69+)

    Rep

    Dem

    Ind

     

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Health providers, such as doctors and hospitals

    76

    79

    74

    74

    74

    80

    80

    82

    81

    71

    Major online retailers (e.g., Amazon, eBay)

    70

    74

    n/a

    70

    69

    72

    70

    72

    72

    69

    Banks and brokerage companies

    65

    68

    59

    63

    60

    66

    78

    68

    67

    63

    Small/Local brick and mortar retailers

    64

    n/a

    n/a

    63

    63

    66

    63

    68

    62

    63

    Chain/Big box brick and mortar retailers (e.g., Target, Walmart)

    59

    n/a

    n/a

    60

    59

    60

    57

    64

    61

    56

    Small and/or independent online retailers

    52

    55

    n/a

    51

    56

    51

    49

    53

    53

    50

    Search and Portal sites (e.g., Google, Yahoo!)

    47

    49

    49

    51

    48

    44

    39

    44

    54

    42

    State and local governments

    46

    52

    56

    52

    40

    44

    41

    40

    60

    39

    The federal government

    40

    48

    54

    47

    38

    37

    32

    29

    56

    34

    Social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, MySpace)

    26

    28

    23

    37

    26

    20

    13

    25

    31

    23

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

    n/a: not asked in that year


    TABLE 1c

    TRUSTING ORGANIZATIONS TO HANDLE PERSONAL INFORMATION PROPERLY
    Summary of No trust at all + Not much trust

    by Generation & Political Party

    Thinking of something else, how much trust do you have in each of the following to handle your personally identified information (such as credit card information, contact information and so forth) in a properly confidential and secure manner?

    Base: U.S. adults

    2014 Total

    2013 Total

    2009 Total

    Generation

    Political Party

    Millennials (18-37)

    Gen X (38-49)

    Baby Boomers (50-68)

    Matures (69+)

    Rep

    Dem

    Ind

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, MySpace)

    74

    72

    77

    63

    74

    80

    87

    75

    69

    77

    The federal government

    60

    52

    46

    53

    62

    63

    68

    71

    44

    66

    State and local governments

    54

    48

    44

    48

    60

    56

    59

    60

    40

    61

    Search and Portal sites (e.g., Google, Yahoo!)

    53

    51

    51

    49

    52

    56

    61

    56

    46

    58

    Small and/or independent online retailers

    48

    45

    n/a

    49

    44

    49

    51

    47

    47

    50

    Chain/Big box brick and mortar retailers (e.g., Target, Walmart)

    41

    n/a

    n/a

    40

    41

    40

    43

    36

    39

    44

    Small/Local brick and mortar retailers

    36

    n/a

    n/a

    37

    37

    34

    37

    32

    38

    37

    Banks and brokerage companies

    35

    32

    41

    37

    40

    34

    22

    32

    33

    37

    Major online retailers (e.g., Amazon, eBay)

    30

    26

    n/a

    30

    31

    28

    30

    28

    28

    31

    Health providers, such as doctors and hospitals

    24

    21

    26

    26

    26

    20

    20

    18

    19

    29

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

    n/a: not asked in that year


    TABLE 2a

    PERCEIVED THREATS TO PRIVACY

    How much of a threat to your privacy, if any, do you consider each of the following?

    Base: U.S. adults

    Threat (NET)

    A strong threat

    A moderate threat

    Not a Threat (NET)

    Not much of a threat

    No threat at all

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Cyber-criminals

    88

    66

    22

    12

    9

    2

    Social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, Google+)

    76

    36

    40

    24

    20

    4

    The federal government

    68

    32

    36

    32

    25

    7

    Wearable, camera-equipped devices in the hands of my fellow Americans

    68

    29

    39

    32

    25

    6

    Camera-equipped phones in the hands of my fellow Americans

    67

    26

    40

    33

    27

    6

    Search and Portal sites (e.g., Google, Yahoo!)

    65

    21

    44

    35

    30

    5

    State and local governments

    64

    24

    40

    36

    29

    7

    Chain/Big box brick and mortar retailers (e.g., Target, Walmart)

    51

    10

    41

    49

    43

    7

    Small and/or independent online retailers

    50

    10

    40

    50

    42

    8

    Major online retailers (e.g., Amazon, eBay)

    47

    9

    38

    53

    44

    9

    Banks and brokerage companies

    47

    11

    36

    53

    44

    9

    Small/Local brick and mortar retailers

    38

    6

    31

    62

    50

    12

    Health providers, such as doctors and hospitals

    37

    8

    29

    63

    47

    16

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


    TABLE 2b

    PERCEIVED THREATS TO PRIVACY

    Summary of A strong threat + A moderate threat

    by Generation & Political Party

    How much of a threat to your privacy, if any, do you consider each of the following?

    Base: U.S. adults

    2014 Total

    2013 Total

    Generation

    Political Party

    Millennials (18-37)

    Gen X (38-49)

    Baby Boomers (50-68)

    Matures (69+)

    Rep

    Dem

    Ind

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Cyber-criminals

    88

    88

    82

    89

    92

    97

    91

    86

    89

    Social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, Google+)

    76

    70

    69

    73

    82

    85

    76

    75

    77

    The federal government

    68

    60

    62

    72

    71

    72

    76

    59

    72

    Wearable, camera-equipped devices in the hands of my fellow Americans

    68

    63

    64

    68

    72

    71

    68

    69

    68

    Camera-equipped phones in the hands of my fellow Americans

    67

    59

    63

    69

    69

    67

    69

    66

    64

    Search and Portal sites (e.g., Google, Yahoo!)

    65

    53

    58

    64

    69

    74

    68

    60

    67

    State and local governments

    64

    56

    56

    69

    68

    67

    70

    56

    66

    Chain/Big box brick and mortar retailers (e.g., Target, Walmart)

    51

    n/a

    48

    50

    52

    56

    48

    51

    51

    Small and/or independent online retailers

    50

    42

    47

    48

    51

    56

    50

    52

    48

    Major online retailers (e.g., Amazon, eBay)

    47

    35

    43

    51

    49

    49

    48

    46

    47

    Banks and brokerage companies

    47

    43

    45

    53

    48

    38

    37

    50

    49

    Small/Local brick and mortar retailers

    38

    n/a

    33

    38

    41

    41

    33

    42

    35

    Health providers, such as doctors and hospitals

    37

    31

    36

    43

    37

    28

    34

    37

    36

    n/a: not asked in that year

     

    TABLE 2c

    PERCEIVED THREATS TO PRIVACY

    Summary of No threat at all + Not much of a threat

    by Generation & Political Party

    How much of a threat to your privacy, if any, do you consider each of the following?

    Base: U.S. adults

    2014 Total

    2013 Total

    Generation

    Political Party

    Millennials (18-37)

    Gen X (38-49)

    Baby Boomers (50-68)

    Matures (69+)

    Rep

    Dem

    Ind

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Health providers, such as doctors and hospitals

    63

    69

    64

    57

    63

    72

    66

    63

    64

    Small/Local brick and mortar retailers

    62

    n/a

    67

    62

    59

    59

    67

    58

    65

    Banks and brokerage companies

    53

    57

    55

    47

    52

    62

    63

    50

    51

    Major online retailers (e.g., Amazon, eBay)

    53

    65

    57

    49

    51

    51

    52

    54

    53

    Small and/or independent online retailers

    50

    58

    53

    52

    49

    44

    50

    48

    52

    Chain/Big box brick and mortar retailers (e.g., Target, Walmart)

    49

    n/a

    52

    50

    48

    44

    52

    49

    49

    State and local governments

    36

    44

    44

    31

    32

    33

    30

    44

    34

    Search and Portal sites (e.g., Google, Yahoo!)

    35

    47

    42

    36

    31

    26

    32

    40

    33

    Camera-equipped phones in the hands of my fellow Americans

    33

    41

    37

    31

    31

    33

    31

    34

    36

    Wearable, camera-equipped devices in the hands of my fellow Americans

    32

    37

    36

    32

    28

    29

    32

    31

    32

    The federal government

    32

    40

    38

    28

    29

    28

    24

    41

    28

    Social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, Google+)

    24

    30

    31

    27

    18

    15

    24

    25

    23

    Cyber-criminals

    12

    12

    18

    11

    8

    3

    9

    14

    11

    n/a: not asked in that year


    TABLE 3a

    PRIVACY STATEMENTS

    How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Summary Grid

    Base: U.S. adults

    AGREE (NET)

    Strongly agree

    Somewhat agree

    DISAGREE (NET)

    Somewhat disagree

    Strongly disagree

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Consumers have lost all control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.

    76

    30

    46

    24

    19

    4

    Most businesses handle the personal information they collect about consumers in a proper and confidential way.

    71

    10

    61

    29

    23

    7

    Existing laws and organizational practices provide a reasonable level of protection for consumer privacy today.

    54

    5

    49

    46

    34

    11

    I am making more purchases with cash because I am worried about credit card/ID theft.

    40

    12

    28

    60

    32

    27

    I am shopping online less due to security concerns.

    36

    11

    25

    64

    38

    27

     

    TABLE 3b

    PRIVACY STATEMENTS

    Summary of Strongly agree + Somewhat agree

    by Generation & Political Party

    How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: U.S. adults

    2014 Total

    2013 Total

    Generation

    Political Party

    Millennials (18-37)

    Gen X (38-49)

    Baby Boomers (50-68)

    Matures (69+)

    Rep

    Dem

    Ind

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Consumers have lost all control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.

    76

    75

    69

    77

    80

    85

    74

    76

    79

    Most businesses handle the personal information they collect about consumers in a proper and confidential way.

    71

    64

    68

    70

    74

    72

    72

    76

    66

    Existing laws and organizational practices provide a reasonable level of protection for consumer privacy today.

    54

    49

    55

    54

    54

    55

    52

    63

    49

    I am making more purchases with cash because I am worried about credit card/ID theft.

    40

    n/a

    45

    45

    37

    29

    36

    40

    43

    I am shopping online less due to security concerns.

    36

    n/a

    40

    35

    34

    27

    34

    35

    36

    n/a: not asked in that year

     

    TABLE 4

    GREATEST PERCEIVED THREAT TO YOUR PRIVACY

    by Generation & Political Party

    Of the following, which do you feel represents the greatest threat to your privacy?

    Base: U.S. adults

    2014 Total

    2013 Total

    Generation

    Political Party

    Millennials (18-37)

    Gen X (38-49)

    Baby Boomers (50-68)

    Matures (69+)

    Rep

    Dem

    Ind

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Cyber-criminals

    62

    64

    56

    62

    68

    67

    59

    72

    57

    The federal government

    29

    28

    32

    27

    28

    26

    35

    16

    36

    My fellow Americans with access to camera-equipped devices (e.g., phones, wearable technology)

    9

    8

    12

    12

    4

    7

    6

    12

    7

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between July 16 and 21, 2014 among 2,306 adults (aged 18 and over), of whom 457 have school-aged children. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

    Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

    The Harris Poll¨ #78, August 7, 2014

    By Larry Shannon-Missal, Manager, Harris Poll Content

    About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

    On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.