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In the US only a tiny minority have confidence their personal data will remain private and secure

Private sign

via Flickr © Nathan O'Nions (CC BY 2.0)

A new report from the Pew Research Centre shows that 92 per cent of US citizens trust neither their government (and its its many agencies) nor US businesses and other organisations to safeguard their private data - and this despite the fact that people continue to give away massive and ever-increasing amounts of information about themselves at the drop of a hat - or the click of a button. The trouble is that it's now far too late to worry about the protection of private data so freely given, apparently with little thought to the consequences. What is done can't be undone.

The Washington DC-headquartered Pew Research Centre is highly-regarded in the US because, unlike many other think-tanks, it is politically non-partizan and, because it does not adopt overt position on policy or political matters, it enjoys a reputation for even-handed, dispassionate and objective empirical research.

The new research was conducted online via two separate surveys. One was conducted in January and February this year and built on results of an earlier survey carried out in August and September of 2014.

It finds that over 90 per cent of US adults want oversight and control over who gets access to their private information but 50 per cent of them believe that supposed safeguards regarding privacy and confidentiality are routinely ignored or overridden by those organisations holding the data.

Some 65 per cent of respondents believe the current limits on just what telephone and Internet data can be collected by the federal government are too diffuse and safeguards are inadequate. They think that far too much is scooped-up and saved, infinitum, by agencies claiming that it is necessary to collect massive amounts of personal information as part of the ongoing and endless 'war on terrorism'.

Only a couple of weeks ago the US Federal Appeals Court ruled that the government’s current mass collection of telephone data is illegal and the House has already voted to amend the governmental programme so that data will be housed and maintained within the telcos until and unless the government requests access to specific and limited information via proper channels and according to law.

And it isn't just the government that Americans don’t trust. Corporations too are regarded as arrogant. overweening and over-powerful. Indeed, 76 per cent of US citizens believe that online advertisers ride roughshod over data protection laws and deliberately and as a matter of commercial policy do not keep private data private.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed said that they have no trust in social media sites, search engine companies or online video sites when it comes to the protection of private data.

The Pew research shows that the US general public maintains a hearty dislike of being monitored and a deep distrust of what happens to their private information. However, the survey and its findings do not address the fact that most US citizens have long been quite happy to give up their birthright of privacy and anonymity for a mess of free online pottage.

Indeed, they continue to do so in a pernicious heavily lop-sided trade whereby they give away potentially highly lucrative but deeply personal information (often of the sort of sensitivity they would never vouchsafe to a stranger on a face-to-face basis) for the questionable benefits of being a member of the likes of Facebook.

One of the report's most interesting findings is that while respondents claimed to have taken some steps to protect their privacy, such as lying in survey answers (and think about that irony of that, Pew) and deleting cookies from their computers and tablets very few (less than 10 per cent) go to the bother to even trying to encrypting their personal data, phone calls, texts and web-browsing activities.

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