Voters concerned about online privacy
Voters across the demographic, regional and political spectrum are wary of technology companies and the possibility that their personal information might be mishandled, according to results of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.
In the latest poll, which surveyed 1,500 registered voters, 82 percent of Californians said they are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about Internet and smartphone companies collecting their personal information, compared to 17 percent of voters who said they are not concerned. About 87 percent of Californians said they have a computer in their home for personal use, and 46 percent carry a smartphone.
By large margins, voters also said companies capturing personal information and Web-browsing history on the Internet are violating their privacy. Seventy-eight percent of voters — including 71 percent of voters age 18-29 — said the collection of personal information online is an invasion of privacy, compared to 13 percent of voters overall who said it improved their online experience by making it easier for companies to provide deals or relevant information.
“Overwhelmingly Californians did not like the idea of their personal information being used for commercial purposes and they weren’t shy in telling us about that,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. “This should be a stark warning sign for online providers as they collect this information. Voters in the largest state in the country, the home of Silicon Valley, may be the most savvy users of online technology in the country. And they are resentful — almost angry — because they feel that their personal information isn’t being handled with the appropriate deference and care.”
Seventy-nine percent of Democratic voters, 79 percent of Republican voters and 74 percent of independent voters said collection of their personal information online is an invasion of privacy, with roughly equal percentages — 64 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of independent voters — saying they believe this strongly.
By education level, 79 percent of noncollege educated voters and 77 percent college-educated voters said technology companies are violating their privacy by collecting personal information. By region, 72 percent of residents of the Bay Area of California said collection of information online is an invasion of privacy, and 18 percent said it allowed for personalized Web browsing. In LA County, the split is 77-14; in the Central Valley it is 79-11.
Overall, 25 percent of Californians said they were most concerned about the collection of personal information happening without their knowledge; 21 percent were most concerned about personal information becoming public; 12 percent were concerned about their personal information being sold; and 6 percent were concerned about Internet companies making money from their personal information. Thirty-two percent of voters said all of these possibilities concerned them.
In the home of both Silicon Valley and Hollywood, a slight majority of Californian voters are in favor of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would stop many websites from making movies and music available without permission.
Fifty-six percent of voters said websites that provide movies and music without permission were stealing property, costing the entertainment industry billions of dollars and threatening jobs, while 32 percent of voters said preventing this content from being available is censorship, would slow innovation and could shut down sites like Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube. Sixteen percent said they didn’t know enough to make a decision.
But voters were heavily divided by age on whether clamping down on online piracy would protect jobs or prevent innovation. A majority of the youngest voters, those age 18-29, said the proposal to stop online piracy would slow innovation and reduce access to movies and music: 54 percent of young voters oppose SOPA, and 37 percent favor it.
These numbers were reversed among older voters: 64 percent of voters older than 50 and favor SOPA, and 22 percent oppose it.
Overall, voters said the technology industry was more important than the entertainment industry to the state’s economy, with 65 percent of voters saying that the tech industry is more important than the entertainment industry and 17 percent saying entertainment helps the economy more than technology.
“Californians believe that Silicon Valley is more important to the state’s economy than Hollywood by overwhelming margins, but ironically they still tend to support the entertainment industry’s position on piracy,” Schnur said. “It’s on questions like this one where a huge general divide begins to emerge. People who watch movies in theaters supported SOPA: People who watch those same movers on their laptops oppose it.”
California voters were also asked to rate technology companies on a scale of zero to 10, based on how much they trust the company to be responsible with their personal information. Zero indicates that the voter does not trust the company at all, and 10 indicates that the voter trusts the company completely. No company surveyed scored higher than five, according to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.
Apple was the most trusted company, with a median trust rating of 4.6. Google was the next most-trusted company with a ranking of 3.8. Other companies, including Facebook and Twitter, ranged from 2.4 to three.
“Because Californians are so familiar with Apple and Google products, those two companies may have been slightly protected from overall concerns about consumer trust. But this may reflect an overall confidence in their products rather than a higher level of confidence about the way they handle their customers’ personal information,” Schnur said.
Twenty-six percent of respondents, including 61 percent of voters under 30, said they use Facebook once a day or more. Four percent of voters use Twitter daily, and eight percent are daily users of Google+.
By age, about equal proportions of young voters and older voters distrust technology companies with their personal information. For example, both 72 percent of voters age 18-29 and 72 percent of voters over age 64 rate Facebook lower than five on a scale of zero to 10 for trustworthiness. Similarly, 69 percent of voters age 18-29 and 68 percent of voters over age 64 rate Twitter below five.
Younger voters, however, were more likely to have trust in technology companies: 44 percent of voters 18-49 rated Apple six and higher, compared to 27 percent of voters over 50. On Google, 39 percent of younger voters and 18 percent of voters over 50 gave the company a trustworthiness score higher than six.
The latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted March 14-19, and surveyed 1,500 registered voters in California. The margin of error for the overall sample is +/- 2.9 percentage points.
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