Online Privacy

Ninety percent of Americans think technology companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Verizon should make a better effort in terms of self-regulating how they collect and share consumers’ online personal data, according to a recent online privacy survey from cybersecurity firm ExpressVPN.

Illustrating how important the issue of online privacy has become, ExpressVPN’s survey found that 35 percent said they would return an electronic device they’d purchased to the store and/or ask for a refund if they discovered that device could be used to actively monitor their private conversations.

When it comes to who Americans think should be responsible for deciding whether tech companies can share their online personal data without their permission, however, Americans seem somewhat divided. 19 percent said this responsibility lies solely with Congress, while 12 percent said this should be a task for the tech companies themselves. More than a third (34 percent) said it should be a shared effort between Congress and tech companies, though more (36 percent) said this responsibility lies with neither party.

This implies most consumers feel that they should be the ultimate authority in determining how their data is handled online. In fact, the survey discovered that 89 percent of Americans think they should now be able to choose whether tech companies can share their online personal data. 

The survey comes as the incoming 116th Congress sets its sights on several new privacy bills such as the Data Care Act, which would establish a series of mandates that tech companies must abide by in order to protect the user data they collect (including names, Social Security numbers, identification numbers, financial account numbers and biometric data) and would also bar that information from being sold or disclosed without users’ consent.

Introduced in December by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and co-sponsored by a group of 14 Senators, the Data Care Act would give the Federal Trade Commission the power to enforce these rules and would penalize companies that don’t adequately safeguard user data.

According to the survey, 82 percent of Americans think Congress should do more this year to regulate how tech companies collect and handle their online personal data. In fact, 47 percent think online privacy should take precedence in Congress over immigration matters, 46 percent think it should be more of a priority than foreign policy issues, 35 percent think it should be more of a priority than healthcare and 25 percent think it should be more of a priority than tax reform legislation.

However, only 40 percent said they believe Congress will actually do anything to address consumer data issues in 2019.

The ExpressVPN online privacy survey polled more than 1,000 U.S. adults online in late November. The survey was conducted by market research company Propeller Insights.