Less than Half of Americans Trust Federal Government with Personal Info

NEW YORK N.Y. – July 16, 2013 – With revelations of government spying coming one after another in recent weeks, it’s perhaps no surprise that just under half of American adults (48%) trust the federal government to handle personal information privately and securely, down from 54% in 2009. Trust in the federal government is highest among those ages 18-34 years old, and lowest among those 55 and older (58% ages 18-34 and 39% ages 55+).

This puts the federal government well behind health providers (79%, up from 74% in 2009), major online retailers (74%, not asked in 2009) and banks/brokerage companies (68%, up from 59% in 2009), slightly behind small and/or independent online retailers (55%, also not asked in 2009) and on par with state and local governments (52%, down from 56% in 2009) and search and portal sites (49%, even with 2009 results), in terms of American’s trust in their handling of personal information in a properly confidential and secure manner. Social networking sites are well behind the federal government, at 28% – though this does represent some growth in trust from 23% in 2009.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,091 adults surveyed online between June 28 and July 2, 2013 by Harris Interactive.

Privacy at risk from cyber-criminals, social media, government snoops and’e2’80_ your fellow Americans?

It is perhaps not surprising that the vast majority of Americans – nearly nine in ten (88%) – see cyber-criminals as a threat to their privacy, making this group the top threat among all those tested. Social networking sites are the next strongest perceived threat, with seven in ten (70%) perceiving such sites as threats to their privacy.

What may be more surprising is that the majority of Americans also feel their privacy is threatened by both government agencies (60% federal, 56% state/local) and camera-equipped devices in the hands of their fellow Americans (63% wearable tech devices, 59% phones).

When asked specifically which represents the greatest threat to their privacy – the federal government, cyber-criminals or their fellow Americans (with access to camera-equipped devices) – nearly two-thirds of Americans specify cyber-criminals (64%), with women more likely to select this group than men (69% vs. 58%).

Nearly three in ten (28%) point to the federal government as the greatest threat to their privacy, with men over 50% more likely than women to do so (35% vs. 22%), and a small but notable percentage of Americans – nearly one in ten (8%) – perceive their fellow Americans with access to camera-equipped devices (such as phones or wearable technology) as the greatest threat to their privacy, a sentiment that is roughly twice as pronounced among 18-34 year olds (12%) as it is among any other age group (6% ages 35-44, 6% ages 45-54, 7% ages 55+).

Even within the context of recent reports exposing widespread and previously secret government surveillance programs, we were astonished to see that nearly three in ten Americans perceive the federal government as a greater threat to their privacy than cyber-criminals, shares Harris Poll President Mike de Vere. But of course, it’s vital to remember that privacy doesn’t exist in a vacuum; rather, it exists as part of a shaky and constantly shifting balance between the privacy Americans value and the security they demand. This balance is surely something the administration is grappling with now, as will future administrations in years to come.

Wearable tech future and fears

Is wearable technology the wave of the future, or do only early adopters need apply? After reading a description about Google’s upcoming Google Glass product, six in ten Americans (61%) think devices like this will take some getting used to but will eventually become more mainstream, much like cell phones, while one-third (33%) don’t think there will be much interest in devices like this.

But regardless of how Americans feel about whether such devices will find a market, many have concerns about the dangers they could represent. Eight in ten Americans (79%) worry that devices like this are dangerous, in that they will cause hazardous driver and pedestrian distractions, with this fear resonating most strongly among women (85%, vs. 73% among men).

Perhaps reflecting privacy concerns, given such devices’ ability to surreptitiously capture and share photos, video and audio files, two-thirds of Americans (67%) would be uncomfortable with anyone having such a device in their vicinity, while only half (51%) would be comfortable with even someone they know well and trust doing so. Women are especially sensitive on this topic, showing a higher level of discomfort with anyone having such a device in their vicinity (71%, vs. 62% among men) and a lower level of comfort with someone they know well and trust doing so (46%, vs. 56% among men).

Mixed attitudes toward corporate America on privacy

Americans appear conflicted in how they see corporate America. While three-fourths (75%) agree that consumers have lost all control over how personal information is collected and used by companies, nearly two-thirds (64%) agree that most businesses handle the personal information they collect about consumers in a proper and confidential way. Only half (49%) believe that existing laws and organizational practices provide a reasonable level of protection for consumer privacy today.

Customized content creeps out consumers

Looking specifically at online data collection practices, a majority of Americans (56%, representing only a slight improvement from 59% in 2008) are not comfortable with the practice of websites using information about a person’s online activity to customize website content. A generational divide of sorts appears to be at work though, with those under 45 (43% ages 18-34, 48% ages 35-44) considerably less likely to express discomfort with this than those 45 and older (63% ages 45-54, 66% ages 55+).

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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

79

30

49

21

14

6

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

74

22

52

26

17

8

Banks and brokerage companies

68

21

47

32

20

11

Small and/or independent online retailers

55

6

49

45

33

12

State and local governments

52

12

40

48

28

20

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

49

9

40

51

31

20

The federal government

48

12

37

52

25

26

Social networking sites (like Facebook or MySpace)

28

5

23

72

31

40

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

TABLE 1b

TRUSTING ORGANIZATIONS TO HANDLE PERSONAL INFORMATION PROPERLY – by Trend, Age & Gender

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?

Summary of A great deal of trust + Some trust

Base: U.S. adults

2013 Total

2009 Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Health providers, such as doctors and hospitals

79

74

78

78

76

82

76

83

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

74

n/a

74

72

74

76

72

77

Banks and brokerage companies

68

59

70

65

63

71

66

70

Small and/or independent online retailers

55

n/a

55

58

58

53

52

58

State and local governments

52

56

61

52

49

46

50

54

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

49

49

55

54

50

41

49

49

The federal government

48

54

58

51

48

39

48

49

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

28

23

42

34

27

14

30

27

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

n/a: not asked in that year

TABLE 2a

TRUSTING EMAIL PROVIDERS TO HANDLE PERSONAL INFORMATION PROPERLY

And thinking specifically about various email account providers, how much trust do you have in each of the following to ensure their account holders’ privacy and security?

Base: U.S. adults

Trust (NET)

A Great Deal of Trust

Some Trust

Don’t Trust (NET)

Not Much Trust

No Trust at all

%

%

%

%

%

%

Gmail (Google)

64

14

50

36

24

12

Outlook (Microsoft; formerly Hotmail)

61

10

51

39

27

12

Yahoo! email

60

12

48

40

27

13

Email services provided by Internet Service Providers (whether independent ISPs or services bundled with cable and/or phone offerings such as Road Runner or Optimum)

56

7

49

44

31

12

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

TABLE 2b

TRUSTING EMAIL PROVIDERS TO HANDLE PERSONAL INFORMATION PROPERLY – by Age & Gender

And thinking specifically about various email account providers, how much trust do you have in each of the following to ensure their account holders’ privacy and security?

Summary of A great deal of trust + Some trust

Base: U.S. adults

2013 Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Gmail (Google)

64

73

73

60

55

65

64

Outlook (Microsoft; formerly Hotmail)

61

61

70

59

58

61

61

Yahoo! email

60

62

65

59

57

62

59

Email services provided by Internet Service Providers (whether independent ISPs or services bundled with cable and/or phone offerings such as Road Runner or Optimum)

56

52

61

61

55

54

58

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

TABLE 3a

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

62

26

12

8

3

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

70

29

41

30

24

6

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

63

23

40

37

28

9

The federal government

60

28

32

40

29

11

Camera-equipped phones in the hands of my fellow Americans

59

20

40

41

31

10

State and local governments

56

20

36

44

33

11

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

53

13

40

47

39

8

Banks and brokerage companies

43

10

32

57

44

13

Small and/or independent online retailers

42

8

34

58

48

10

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

35

7

28

65

50

14

Health providers, such as doctors and hospitals

31

7

25

69

48

20

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

TABLE 3b

PERCEIVED THREATS TO PRIVACY – by Age & Gender

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

Summary of A strong threat + A moderate threat

Base: U.S. adults

2013 Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Cyber-criminals

88

80

85

95

93

87

89

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

70

58

68

77

78

70

70

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

63

53

62

64

71

61

65

The Federal government

60

51

59

65

67

64

57

Camera-equipped phones in the hands of my fellow Americans

59

49

56

65

66

57

61

State and local governments

56

47

52

59

63

59

53

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

53

42

51

54

63

55

51

Banks and brokerage companies

43

41

43

44

43

44

41

Small and/or independent online retailers

42

37

41

41

47

44

40

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

35

30

37

36

39

38

33

Health providers, such as doctors and hospitals

31

30

35

30

32

35

28

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


TABLE 4

COMFORT WITH WEBSITES TAILORING CONTENT TO PERSONAL INTERESTS – By Trend, Age & Gender

How comfortable are you when websites like Google and Yahoo! use information about your online activity to tailor advertisements or content to your hobbies and interests?

Base: U.S. adults

2013 Total

2008 Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Comfortable (NET)

44

41

57

52

37

34

47

42

Very comfortable

9

7

15

12

6

3

11

7

Somewhat comfortable

36

34

42

41

31

31

36

35

Not comfortable (NET)

56

59

43

48

63

66

53

58

Not very comfortable

33

34

29

31

38

36

30

36

Not at all comfortable

22

25

14

17

25

31

23

22

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

TABLE 5

AGREEMENT WITH PRIVACY STATEMENTS – by Age & Gender

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

Summary of Strongly agree + Somewhat agree

Base: U.S. adults

2013 Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

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

75

65

79

76

82

74

77

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

64

68

62

60

63

61

67

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

49

56

50

46

45

48

51

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

TABLE 6

GREATEST PERCEIVED THREAT TO YOUR PRIVACY – by Age & Gender

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

Base: U.S. adults

2013 Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Cyber-criminals

64

58

67

69

64

58

69

The federal government

28

29

26

26

29

35

22

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

8

12

6

6

7

7

9

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


TABLE 7

AGREEMENT WITH GOOGLE GLASS STATEMENTS – by Age & Gender

As you may have heard, Google is introducing a new device called ‘Google Glass.’ It is a wearable computer device which, among other applications, is capable of taking photographs, recording video and audio, and streaming or sending photos and recordings, all without anyone in the vicinity necessarily being aware that such activities are occurring. Knowing this, how much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Summary of Strongly agree + Somewhat agree

Base: U.S. adults

2013 Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

I worry that devices like this are dangerous, in that they will cause hazardous driver and pedestrian distractions.

79

71

84

78

85

73

85

I would be uncomfortable with anyone having such a device in my vicinity.

67

57

64

73

74

62

71

I think devices like this will take some getting used to but will eventually become mainstream, much like cell phones.

61

57

66

64

61

64

59

I would be comfortable with someone I know well and trust having such a device in my vicinity.

51

58

60

46

43

56

46

I don’t think there will be much interest in a device like this.

33

35

40

28

31

37

30

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

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between June 28 and July 2, 2013 among 2,091 adults (aged 18 and over). 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, Harris Interactive 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 Interactive 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 the Harris Interactive 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 Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll‘c2’ae #45, July 16, 2013

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Harris Interactive

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