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Modern field guide to security and privacy

What's the state of digital privacy in America in 2016?

Half of Americans don’t trust businesses with their personal information but study shows greater transparency would build trust online.

Data from surveys conducted by Ipsos on behalf of TRUSTe / NCSA December 17-22, 2015 © TRUSTe, Inc. 2016 All Rights Reserved
Data from surveys conducted by Ipsos on behalf of TRUSTe / NCSA December 17-22, 2015 © TRUSTe, Inc. 2016 All Rights Reserved
Data from surveys conducted by Ipsos on behalf of TRUSTe / NCSA December 17-22, 2015 © TRUSTe, Inc. 2016 All Rights Reserved
Data from surveys conducted by Ipsos on behalf of TRUSTe / NCSA December 17-22, 2015 © TRUSTe, Inc. 2016 All Rights Reserved
Data from surveys conducted by Ipsos on behalf of TRUSTe / NCSA December 17-22, 2015 © TRUSTe, Inc. 2016 All Rights Reserved
Data from surveys conducted by Ipsos on behalf of TRUSTe / NCSA December 17-22, 2015 © TRUSTe, Inc. 2016 All Rights Reserved
Data from surveys conducted by Ipsos on behalf of TRUSTe / NCSA December 17-22, 2015 © TRUSTe, Inc. 2016 All Rights Reserved

Americans are overwhelmingly and increasingly concerned about their digital privacy even as they are uncertain about how to better protect it — and that gap between concern and action is hindering the digital economy.

It’s remarkable that just 56 percent of Americans trust businesses with their personal information online and nine in ten of those surveyed say they avoid businesses they don’t find trustworthy, as the TRUSTe/National Cybersecurity Alliance’s 2016 US Consumer Privacy Index found.

“Consumer privacy concern is real and rising and businesses need to act now to rebuild trust with their customers before it hurts the bottom line through lost clicks, downloads and sales,” said Chris Babel, CEO of TRUSTe. “With 3 out of 4 Americans modifying their online activity last year due to privacy concerns this research shows privacy is not just good practice it is simply good business.”

Nearly half of Americans (45 percent) said they were more concerned about their digital privacy than they were one year ago, according to the survey of 1000 adults conducted by Ipsos in late December and released on Jan. 28, Data Privacy Day. Overall concern remained high at over 92 percent, consistent with last year’s survey.

That concern lead more than half of Americans to avoid clicking on online ads, more than 40 percent to withhold personal information from an online business, and roughly a third to eschew accessing a website or downloading an app. Twenty eight percent halted an online transaction altogether due to privacy questions.

How could businesses close the gap? In short: Transparency.

Consumers want simpler tools to help them control how their data is collected, used and shared: 40 percent don’t feel they have any control of what data is collected, 32 percent think protecting personal information online is too complex and 38 percent say clear procedures for removing personal information would increase trust.

While Americans may be curtailing their digital behavior today, the research points to a hopeful future for greater trust online.

Chiefly, Americans are keen to take action to match their privacy expectations to digital reality — they just aren’t yet clear on exactly what they should be doing to make a difference for their online privacy.

Seventy-five percent of American Internet users believe they adequately protect their information online. Yet their actions tell a different story. Only 60 percent were aware that they could delete cookies, cache and browsing history, only 43 percent aware that they could turn off location tracking or change the settings on their social media accounts. Only 33 percent were aware they could read privacy policies.

A notably lower proportion in each case had actually done any of these activities in the last year.

“Consumers are increasingly aware, interested and concerned about their privacy and they’re acting on it,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cybersecurity Alliance. “However, if Internet users knew more, they would do more. The research points to an awareness-action shortfall that belies a growing confidence in Americans’ personal ability to protect their online data.”

The TRUSTe/National Cyber Security Alliance U.S. Consumer Privacy Index 2016 is based on data from an online survey conducted by Ipsos with around 1,000 US Internet users December 17 to 22, 2015. The research was commissioned by TRUSTe and the NCSA, building on tracking studies conducted over the past six years by both organizations. Comparable research was also conducted in Great Britain.

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