Consumers Want Government to Tighten Regulations for Advertisers, Pew Study Says

Half of Consumers Say Location Data Is Sensitive

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More than 40% of consumers rate some information that marketers gather and use on a regular basis -- such as their purchasing habits, website visits and who their friends are -- is somewhat sensitive, according to a new Pew Research Center Internet Project study.

The study, conducted in January to evaluate consumer attitudes towards government and commercial data gathering and privacy, suggests that Americans in the post-Snowden era are concerned with government data collection and surveillance. But they are simultaneously looking at the very same government to establish more stringent regulations for commercial entities.

"Perhaps most striking is Americans' lack of confidence that they have control over their personal information," said the report, which presents stats from a survey of 607 adults conducted for Pew by GfK Group. "That pervasive concern applies to everyday communications channels and to the collectors of their information -- both in the government and in corporations," the report said.

Some 64% of study participants believe the government should do more to regulate advertisers, it found.

This was the first time Pew and GfK asked the questions posed of study participants, so it is unclear from the report data whether consumer privacy concerns have changed over time.

It's not just credit card data and social security numbers that consumers are worried about. Some forms of data marketers use regularly to segment and target consumer audiences is considered "very sensitive," including location data. The study found half of consumers consider location data gathered through their mobile devices to be "very sensitive"; around one-third said location data is "somewhat sensitive."

However, the majority, 55%, is also willing to share some personal data in exchange for free online services.

More from the Pew report:

  • 91% of participants "agree" or "strongly agree" that consumers have lost control over how their personal data is collected and used by corporations.
  • 80% of social media users say they are concerned about third parties such as advertisers accessing the information they share.
  • 70% of social networking site users say that they are at least somewhat concerned about the government accessing some of the information they share on social networking sites without their knowledge.