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Around 256 million Americans use social media on a daily basis, but nearly all of them believe doing so puts their privacy at risk.
The Rad Campaign and Lincoln Park Strategies partnered with the Craig Newmark Foundation to conduct nationwide poll, which found that 96 percent of social media users fear that social networks do not protect their personal information.
As a follow-up to their 2014 survey, the latest statistics provide valuable insight into how popular attitudes to social media are changing, including a clear trend of growing skepticism across all demographics when it came to privacy and social media sites.
“Americans are very concerned about these companies’ ability to protect their data, and they would like to see them do more,” Allyson Kapin of the Rad Campaign explained to the Daily Dot.
“Social networks need to be fully transparent about how people’s personal data is being used … [especially] given the recent news that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allowed a third-party company, Geofeedia, to purchase user data,” Kapin said.
The story of Geofeedia surveillance, first reported by the Daily Dot and followed up by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), exposed how data rich social media companies had signed data agreements with third-party company Geofeedia, which produces monitoring tools for law enforcement. Controversially, Geofeedia had been marketing its tool as a means to track down Black Lives Matter activists in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland. Users of the social media sites involved were completely unaware of this mass surveillance or that their data was being aggregated and archived for this purpose.
Instances like this go a long way to undermine not only the trust that social networks have the ability to protect and respect the privacy of their users, but also their intent. Still, revelations of privacy violations do not slow public uptake or usage of the platforms.
“Most interesting to us is the lack of trust combined with the understanding, particularly among Millennials, that our privacy laws are too weak,” Marc Rotenburg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC), told the Daily Dot. “The critical problem is that our laws have failed to keep up with our technology.”
Indeed, the survey illustrated a broad belief that only a third of those polled thought privacy laws were adequate
When technology and business opportunity have dictated the degree of protection afforded to users, like in the case of Geofeedia, user privacy is rarely a priority. Neither Twitter nor Facebook responded to our requests for comment on company policies to protect the public and to retain trust on the part of the user.
Rotenburg believes that real change requires the reform of civil liberties legislation and regulation. EPIC, which is based in Washington, D.C., regularly takes these conversations to Congress and recently launched a data protection campaign to encourage the American electorate to voice their privacy concerns at the ballot box.
“We believe that privacy may be the most important, least well understood issue of this election season,” Rotenburg said. “Updating our law should be one of the top priorities for the next administration.”
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology.