Most people know by now social media isn’t free – it’s paid for with the collection of its users’ sometimes-sensitive information. Your GPS system keeps track of your movements, and your smart TV or webcam can watch you. Almost all the information these devices collect can be sold to companies or used by governments and law enforcement to keep tabs or gather evidence. At the same time, we use technology so frequently as a society because it allows us to do things faster and with much less effort. Is the trade-off worth it, or are we selling our souls to the devil?

We conducted a survey to find out where public opinion lies on the question of technology and privacy or security. People of different age groups and different occupations answered questions to determine how bothersome certain devices were to them regarding privacy violations.

As it turns out, some feel technology is far too convenient to give up despite its flaws, while others would trash their devices if they found out it was spying on them. Of course, many were of mixed opinion and considered these issues on a case-by-case basis. While the spectrum of sentiment on the issue is quite varied, the discussion of technology and privacy is one of paramount importance today. Continue reading to learn what we found.

industry privacy concerns

Since many people depend on technology for some, if not most, aspects of their life, it’s understandable these people would have opinions on the broader question of tech, convenience, and privacy. Interestingly, one’s occupation appears to have an impact on which aspect of privacy violation they find most egregious.

It’s not surprising to find that 4 out of 5 of the industries at high risk for criminal cyber activity appear on the list, which is primarily concerned with the criminal side of privacy violation.

Health care, government, finance, and transportation industries have all had to increase their security budgets recently to prevent a rise in cyberattacks. Arts and entertainment, which has been harmed by online piracy for decades now, is also uncomfortable with criminality. Outside of more high-profile crimes in the sphere of industry, homemakers, retirees (who own property, presumably), and retailers also feel threatened by cybercriminals, who have been targeting individual digital property at an increased rate over the past few years.

Industries threatened by government privacy intrusion include the industries we often see battling regulation in the public eye. Technology, broadly, which includes the fields of marketing and information technology, has taken a big hit financially following the revelation of the NSA’s surveillance program and the government’s eavesdropping on tech companies. 

genders surveilled

While men and women seemed to have proportional concerns about privacy in the digital age, a few interesting outliers exist. Responses were similarly low (less than 10 percent of each gender were concerned) on the questions of whether privacy intrusion bothered the person at all and whether the data should be used in legal proceedings. The low returns on these questions could be a result of the "nothing to hide" sentiment rearing its head again or a result of people finding concern in other areas of privacy violation.

Much higher returns were generated on questions of tracking, conversation monitoring, and the sale of data for advertising. Women were more concerned overall with identity and location tracking. A variety of digital issues disproportionately affects women, which include stalking and location tracking by ill-intentioned people. Men had concerns with these issues as well but perhaps didn’t feel as physically threatened by them. Where men took more issue than women: the selling of personal data to advertisers and monitoring of conversations and activity.

It can be disconcerting to look up a new fridge only to find your Facebook and news sites flooded with appliance advertisements the next morning. Not to mention the annoyance of a sluggish website bogged down by advertisements. More than a quarter of desktop users now use ad blockers – and that’s not counting mobile users.

Privacy Through The Ages

Different generations have different relationships with technology and, as such, have different concerns about specific technologies and their relationship to privacy and security. Those 65 and older appeared to be very distrustful of technology, recording higher levels of concern than younger generations in almost every field. Those in the age bracket of 45-64 all found location tracking, home security, and smart device privacy issues to be the most threatening. People who fell in this age group appeared to be the least distrustful of fitness tracking devices, although they still disliked them more than younger generations.

From age 18 to 44, the data trends looked rather similar. A uniform distrust of social media existed, but they regarded smart thermostats, fitness trackers, and public surveillance as less of an issue than older generations. Younger age groups may be less concerned than others about these issues because they trust businesses to keep their data secure. On the other hand, they seem to be warier of home and smart car security. Interestingly, 18- to 24-year-olds recorded their highest level of concern was home security.

The Vice of All Devices

Each device we use possesses a unique capability to compromise our privacy. Two of the top three issues involved being watched and tracked by cameras. Most people were very uncomfortable with the eerie prospect of being spied on through cameras on their TVs, though this possibility exists in webcams and smartphone cameras, as well. Interestingly, the second biggest concern involved data intrusion by anti-virus software. Taking third place was biometric facial recognition, another issue that depends on camera surveillance to succeed. Strangely, surveillance by public security cameras was among the least concerning to people.

Despite social media being one of the largest data collectors of this list, less than half of those surveyed found it to be a threat. This might be related to the growing rates of social media use over the years. People were also not quite as concerned about smart home, smart car, and smart thermostat security system hacking, and this lack of suspicion about these devices seems to jive with the high level of interest among the public in owning connected homes and cars.

However, if you’re of the opinion Americans should be more aware of privacy issues than they have been, you will be refreshed to see no device was responded to with a level of concern less than 32 percent. 

The Privacy Ultimatum

When asked about whether privacy violations would make a person reconsider using convenient tech devices, a rather stark divide appeared between the generations. Millennials (and some a few years older) responded that fewer than 20 percent would forsake technology because of its intrusion into their personal life. This percentage aligns with the findings of many similar studies: Young people don’t really care what is done with their data. In other words, younger people make the most use of technology but exhibit the least concern.

The situation changed quite drastically, however, between the age brackets of 35 to 44 and 45 to 54. This might be that 35-year-olds are still technically millennials, and those just a few years older may have similar sentiments toward technology. Allow for one decade, though, and respondents were almost twice as likely to stop using a device that violated their privacy. The older one became, the more likely they were to adhere to this line of thinking. Older generations primarily use technology to keep in touch with loved ones, so it’s likely the “do-or-die” sentiment young people feel toward tech does not permeate older Americans to the same degree.

Conclusion

In today’s world, it doesn’t matter if you’re a 25-year-old landscaper or a 55-year-old dad – you’re likely thinking about what it means to encounter technology at every moment, every day. However, the feelings people display toward the implications these devices have on our privacy vary quite widely.

Young people thrived on the conveniences of technology and had some concerns, while older generations, who were able to get by in a time before its advent, seemed more distrustful of tech’s consequences. Men considered these consequences differently than women did. Even people across different industries had varying thoughts about what technology was good for and what the greatest risks were of its privacy shortcomings.

If anything, the wide array of opinions on privacy in the digital age is a demonstration of rising awareness among the American public. Even 10 years ago, this level of comprehension would not have existed. Whether people fear camera surveillance, social media, or don’t really care at all about technology’s preeminence, it’s assuring to know information regarding the subject has become more widely available and discussed. Finally, people of all walks of life are giving these important issues more and more thought. 

Methodology

We surveyed 1,019 people aged 18 and older about their opinions on security and other electronic devices and whether they felt the risk to privacy was worth the security and convenience benefits. Using the results of the survey, we were able to segment responses based on age, gender, employment, and other demographics. The visualizations were created using the data generated from the survey.

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