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Pew: Majority Want Control Of Personal Info Online

The vast majority of U.S. adults (93%) say it is important to be in control of who can access information about them and 90% say the same about controlling what information is being collected, though less than 10% say they have done anything to protect themselves in response to revelations about data collection.

That is according to a new Pew Research Center study based on almost 500 respondents to questions about privacy, security and surveillance.

Not many of those respondents are very confident that government agencies (6%) or telephone companies (6%) or credit card companies (9%) can keep their records private and secure. Cable television companies generated even less confidence, with only 5% “very confident.” But that was better than edge providers, with search engines recording only 2% and only 1% very confident that online video sites, social media sites and online advertisers could keep those records secure.

The survey also found that most people want limits on the length of time those records can be retained.

Half of those surveyed said they did not think online advertisers should save records of their activity for "any length of time, while 44% say that online video sites should not retain records of their activity and 40% think that their search engine providers should not retain information about their activity.

The survey comes as the Congress is considering legislation that would eliminate the indiscriminate collection of bulk telephone metadata.

“In the almost two years that have passed since the initial [Edward] Snowden revelations [about bulk collection], the public has been awash in news stories detailing security breaches at major retailers, health insurance companies and financial institutions. These events and the doubts they have inspired have contributed to a cloud of personal ‘data insecurity’ that now looms over many Americans’ daily decisions and activities,” said Mary Madden, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center, in releasing the survey. “Many find these developments deeply troubling and want limits put in place, while some do not feel these issues affect them personally.”

The survey found that 40% of adults say they disapprove of the government collection of phone or Internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts, while 32% say they approve and 26% say they don't know.

But when the question is whether there are sufficient limits on government data collection, the majority (65%) say no.

Still, few people have taken steps to try and prevent such collection. At the time of the survey, in late summer 2014, 91% said they had not made any changes to how they used the Internet or their phones to avoid being tracked in the wake of the government information collection revelations, though many were already doing, or had done in the past, what the survey called "everyday obfuscation. That included clearing cookies of browser histories (59%), deleting a post (29%), or providing inaccurate information."

The majority of the report is based on a Pew Research Center survey Aug. 5-Sept. 2, 2014, of 498 adults 18 and older, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percentage points at a 95% level of confidence.

(Photo via Janine's FlickrImage taken on May 20, 2015 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.