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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Data gathering worries most Californians

LOS ANGELES — California’s high-tech companies make the world’s most popular smartphones, social networks and search engines, but there’s one asset they’re struggling to build: trust.

The vast majority of Californians surveyed in a statewide poll are worried about the data collected by Internet and smartphone companies, and most said they distrust even companies known for their ardent fans and tens of millions of daily users.

Many of those surveyed in the latest University of Southern California Dornsife/Times poll also said they were wary of companies collecting personal information without their knowledge and concerned that personal data could become public or be harvested to sell them products.

The results of the survey, which draw a stark picture of the public’s attitude on privacy, come as policy-makers ramp up efforts to pass laws aimed at protecting personal information on users’ whereabouts, interests and social activity. In recent months, federal lawmakers have held numerous hearings about the need for privacy laws, and Obama administration officials recently renewed their call for Congress to pass online privacy legislation.

“It reaffirms my opinion that privacy is a big deal — and it’s becoming a bigger deal,” Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas, said of the poll results. Barton, who cosponsored a privacy bill pending in Congress, said lawmakers are “gaining ground” in their years-long battle to write data privacy into law.

The findings of the survey, conducted for the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times, were consistent with a poll released last month by the Pew Research Center, which found that 68 percent of respondents did not approve of targeted Internet advertising if it meant having their online behavior tracked and analyzed. Pew has said that nearly 3 in 4 Americans now use search engines, and two-thirds use social networks. Nearly half of adults in the U.S. own smartphones. The poll was conducted by telephone March 14-19 with 1,500 registered California voters. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

None of the companies mentioned in the survey would comment on the results of the poll.
But Linda Woolley, a representative of the Digital Advertising Alliance, an industry marketing consortium supported by hundreds of Internet, automotive, financial and health care companies, said the poll results were not telling the whole story.

“If somebody came up to me on the street and said, ‘Are you concerned about online data practices?’ I’d say yes,” she said. But, she said, most people would be thinking of problems like identity theft and credit card fraud rather than what most firms use the data for: to more efficiently sell people products they want.

Of those who said they were concerned about data privacy, one-quarter said they were most uneasy about their personal information being collected without their permission or knowledge, while 21 percent said they were more worried about their information becoming public. A smaller group, 18 percent, said their chief concern was either that companies could use their personal information to make money or that they would sell it to marketers. Nearly one-third said they were equally concerned by all of these possibilities.

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