Anecdotally, we all knew this. Now, we have the hard numbers to back it up. Americans feel they have lost control over their private lives. People believe they no longer have any control over how companies gather personal information on them and use it.

A still sizable majority worry about the government’s intrusion into private communications of American citizens, including the monitoring of phone calls and Internet communication.

Looks like Big Business fears have trumped the fear of Big Brother. For now. The nonpartisan Pew Research Center conducted the study for its Internet Project. Pew’s survey took place in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations on the widespread government surveillance programs last year. Pew looked at people’s perception of online behavior and privacy in the wake of leaks.

What the survey showed is that Americans are fast becoming a distrusting lot. When it came to big business and the tracking of users online, 91% of Americans agreed or strongly agreed that we have collectively lost control of our privacy.

In what will come as a bit of a shock, Americans actually trust the government a bit more, though if I was in Congress, I wouldn’t trumpet these numbers. 80% of Americans said that we should be worried about the government’s monitoring of communication.

pew privacy survey

Secure Messaging?

Once Pew discovered America was completely jaded about privacy, the research firm dug into methods of communication.

pew privacy survey

Not surprising, the pessimism continued here. When asked about landlines, email, cell phones, text messaging or social media, a universal distrust showed. Not one form of communication was rated ‘very secure’ by a majority of respondents.

If you are looking for some ray of sunshine out of the report, you better start looking elsewhere. Out of all methods of communications, landlines were rated ‘very secure’ by 16% of respondents. Interesting rating, in that the NSA and other intel agencies have tapped those the longest. And who even has a landline these days?

Rounding out the horrible privacy scores are cell phones at 9%, 7% texting, 4% online chat systems and 2% social media. Come on Pew, that 2% is the outlier jackass that is just saying very secure to be difficult.

Age Gap on Privacy?

You hear it from every corner. My generation, or the digital natives, don’t care about privacy. Not true according to Pew. 32% of adults 18-29 asked to have incorrect information removed, compared to 17% aged 30-49. It could be the oversharing of this generation, or the privacy pendulum is swinging back.

Digital Privacy and Free Services

While 61% of respondents did not buy the argument that collecting data helped services run smoothly, 55% were happy to give up some information to use a service for free. Disconnect? Sure, but it’s the old adage that Americans love a free lunch. Then they find out it wasn’t so free and get angry.

Read the entire survey and report over at Pew’s Internet Project.

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