Most Americans Mistrust Big Tech and Want Regulation: Survey

Most Americans Mistrust Big Tech and Want Regulation: Survey Most Americans Mistrust Big Tech and Want Regulation: Survey (Dreamstime)

By Peter Malbin | Wednesday, 22 December 2021 01:39 PM

Americans don’t trust social media services with their information, with 64% saying the government should do more to restrict Big Tech companies. Most Americans say they are skeptical that internet giants will responsibly handle their personal information and online data. And an overwhelming majority say they think tech companies don’t provide people with enough control over how their activities are tracked and used.

These are some of the findings of a Washington Post-Schar School survey conducted in November among a random sample of 1,122 adults nationwide.

According to the survey, 72% of internet users trust Facebook "not much" or "not at all" to responsibly handle their personal information and data on their internet activity. About six in 10 distrust TikTok and Instagram, while slight majorities distrust WhatsApp and YouTube.

Google, Apple, and Microsoft received mixed marks for trust, while Amazon was slightly positive, with 53% trusting the company at least "a good amount."

Facebook has struggled with privacy issues for years, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the recent revelations by whistleblower Francis Haugen. More than seven in 10 internet users are on Facebook, with over half saying they use it daily.

Only 10% of Washington Post survey respondents say Facebook has a positive impact on society, while 56% say it has a negative impact, and 33% say its impact is neither positive nor negative.

People had more positive views of Apple and Amazon in the Washington Post poll.

Social media apps like Facebook and search engines like Google collect data for online marketing and advertising purposes. Among those who see targeted ads, 82% say they are annoying and 74% say they are invasive.

According to a Pew Research survey, Democrat support for the government doing more to regulate how internet companies handle privacy grew from 45% in 2012 to 82% this year, while Republican support is up from 30% to 53%, and support from independents is up from 38% to 66%.

"What is striking about the results of the survey is how distrust of Big Tech unifies Republicans and Democrats, even though they may have different reasons for disliking the companies and their policies," said Jack Goldstone, who directs the Center for the Study of Social Change, Institutions and Policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government.

According to a Pew Research survey, Americans do not have a positive view of the way that internet companies handle privacy matters. When asked about internet companies that collect personal information for targeted ads, 59% say this is an unjustified use of people’s personal information. Just 33% view this as a fair exchange for the free internet services — such as email, search, and social networking — that these companies provide.

Nearly eight in 10 internet users take at least some precautions to limit the information that websites, search engines, or apps gather about them, according to the Post-Schar School poll. Search engines like duckduckgo are growing in popularity and usage because they do not track or collect personal information and instead protect searchers' privacy.

A 57% majority say they have changed privacy settings on websites, such as not allowing tracking, and half say they altered the privacy settings on their phone or apps. Most say they have deleted their web history (56%), while nearly four in 10 say they changed their browser settings (39%) or used a private browsing setting such as "incognito mode" (37%). About one in four (26%) say they have used a virtual private network — software for creating a more private internet connection — to protect their privacy.

The survey was conducted by The Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University Nov. 4-22, among a random national sample of 1,122 adults including 1,058 internet users. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for overall results, and four points among internet users.

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