Americans Don’t Understand What Companies Can Do With Their Personal Data — and That’s a Problem

Press Release by the Annenberg School for Communications: “Have you ever had the experience of browsing for an item online, only to then see ads for it everywhere? Or watching a TV program, and suddenly your phone shows you an ad related to the topic? Marketers clearly know a lot about us, but the extent of what they know, how they know it, and what they’re legally allowed to know can feel awfully murky. 

In a new report, “Americans Can’t Consent to Companies’ Use of Their Data,” researchers asked a nationally representative group of more than 2,000 Americans to answer a set of questions about digital marketing policies and how companies can and should use their personal data. Their aim was to determine if current “informed consent” practices are working online. 

They found that the great majority of Americans don’t understand the fundamentals of internet marketing practices and policies, and that many feel incapable of consenting to how companies use their data. As a result, the researchers say, Americans can’t truly give informed consent to digital data collection.

The survey revealed that 56% of American adults don’t understand the term “privacy policy,” often believing it means that a company won’t share their data with third parties without permission. In actual fact, many of these policies state that a company can share or sell any data it gathers about site visitors with other websites or companies.

Perhaps because so many Americans feel that internet privacy feels impossible to comprehend — with “opting-out” or “opting-in,” biometrics, and VPNs — they don’t trust what is being done with their digital data. Eighty percent of Americans believe that what companies know about them can cause them harm.

“People don’t feel that they have the ability to protect their data online — even if they want to,” says lead researcher Joseph Turow, Robert Lewis Shayon Professor of Media Systems & Industries at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania….(More)”