As the Obama administration moves to implement privacy policies aimed at giving consumers more control over their personal information, a poll released on Tuesday found that a big majority of those surveyed are worried that online companies are using customers’ private data without their permission.
The survey from Consumer Reports found that 71 percent of the 1,017 adults polled said they were very concerned that online firms are selling or sharing their personal data without their permission. The survey was conducted last Thursday through Saturday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
The survey found almost as much concern among mobile-phone users, with 65 percent saying they worry that apps on their smartphones could access their address books, photos, and other personal information without their permission. A majority of those polled also said they worry that companies are holding on to data about them longer than is needed; that personal data collected while online could be used by employers or loan providers; and that online firms are collecting data about children.
“This survey confirms that most Americans are very concerned about their online privacy,” said Ioana Rusu, regulatory counsel for Consumers Union, Consumer Reports’ public policy and advocacy arm. “Your personal data ought to be treated with respect, and you ought to have more of a say in how it’s used.”
Consumers Union and other privacy advocates want Congress to pass broad privacy legislation.
The Obama administration in February called on lawmakers to enact privacy legislation to codify its proposed privacy “bill of rights,” aimed at giving consumers more control over their personal data both online and offline. But given the difficulty of passing privacy legislation, the administration also called on industry to work with privacy advocates and other stakeholders to develop voluntary codes of conduct to implement the principles in its privacy bill of rights.
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is spearheading the development of these industry codes, sought comment on the process. Consumers Union was among the many groups and companies that submitted comments on the process by Monday’s deadline.
Consumers Union, along with the Benton Foundation, the Consumer Federation of America, and Privacy Times said in their joint comments that consumer groups should have an adequate role in the process and urged the agency to ensure that it is open and transparent. Among the areas they would like to see covered by the codes of conduct include data collection by mobile apps; facial recognition and detection software; collection and use of data about children and teens; and collection of information that could affect employment, credit, or insurance rates.
The Digital Advertising Alliance, which represents online advertisers and ad networks, had a much different view of the process, saying that the “best and fastest way to develop such voluntary codes is through confidential negotiations among industry representatives.” The group said such a process, which the alliance used to develop its own self-regulatory privacy program, will allow industry representatives to be more candid and to work through confidential issues more easily.