Most People Doubt Web Companies Will Keep Data Private

Many Americans doubt that data about their Web activity will be kept private by online ad companies, social video sites and other Web service providers. That's according to the Pew Research Center, which today issued its latest installment in a series exploring attitudes toward privacy.

“Online service providers are among the least trusted entities when it comes to keeping information private and secure,” Pew states in its new paper. The report is based on a survey of 461 adults conducted in January and February, and a survey of 498 adults conducted between August and September of 2014.

More than three out of four respondents (76%) said they lack confidence that Web-surfing data held by online advertisers will remain private. Nearly the same proportion (69%) say they're not confident that records held by social media services will remain private, while 66% aren't sure that records of their search-engine activity will remain confidential.

Online video providers are among the few companies that arguably must keep information about users private, thanks to the federal Video Privacy Protection Law. That law, which dates to 1988, prohibits video providers from disclosing consumers' personally identifiable information without their written consent.

Despite the law, two-thirds of respondents (66%) say they have no confidence that records of their activity collected by online video sites will remain private.

Many Web users also say they would like companies to shed data, as opposed to holding it indefinitely. Exactly half of survey respondents said online advertisers shouldn't store data indefinitely, while slightly less than half (44%) don't want online video services to retain records about consumer's viewing habits. Four out of 10 people say that search engine providers and social media sites shouldn't save data about consumers' activity.

European laws already call for companies to destroy data after it's no longer needed, but no comparable laws exist in the U.S.

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