As Concerns Grow Over Internet Privacy, Most Say Search & Social Have Too Much Power

June 8, 2018

A slight majority (52%) of people around the world say they’re more concerned about their online privacy than they were a year ago, according to a report [pdf] from Ipsos, the Internet Society and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). While these people are primarily concerned about cyber criminals, the vast majority say that internet companies have contributed to their growing concern.

The survey was fielded among more than 25,000 internet users ages 16-64 (18-64 in the US and Canada) in 25 economies. Respondents in the US were right on the average (52%) in terms of growing privacy fears, while showing an above-average likelihood to blame those concerns in part on their own government and on internet companies.

A sense that online platforms have an excess of power is likely fueling the concern over internet companies’ role in privacy fears. Indeed, respondents were about twice as likely to say that various platforms have too much rather than too little power:

  • Social media (63% saying they have too much power versus 30% saying they have too little);
  • Search engines (57% and 28%, respectively);
  • Online apps (48% and 28%, respectively); and
  • Online advertisements (49% and 29%, respectively).

This concern over search and social platforms’ influence over people comes despite a majority of respondents also feeling that the platforms make their lives easier, more efficient and better overall.

Majority Feel That Search, Social Influence Purchases

Internet users plainly feel that online platforms influence what they see and do online – and even what they do offline, per the report.

Indeed, a majority (56%) believe that search engines influence what they purchase online, and slightly lesser majorities believe the same with respect to social media (52%) and online ads (51%).

Moreover, even greater proportions of respondents believe that search engines (64%) and social media platforms (57%) influence the websites they visit.

Meanwhile, respondents also ascribe influence in other areas, too. Most say that search and social platforms influence the media sites they visit, the news that they see, and the applications they use.

And while fewer feel that these platforms’ influence extends offline, around 4 in 10 claim that search and social platforms influence their political points of view and where they go during their day.

Both online apps and online ads also carry a significant degree of heft, too, albeit not quite as broadly as search and social platforms, according to the respondents.

While marketers may look at this data and marvel at the opportunities presented by these platforms to influence online behavior (particularly relating to purchases), in the context of online privacy concerns (see: Cambridge Analytica) people seem to feel that the platforms have too much power to influence their behavior.

Also, it’s worth noting that this perception of excess power may actually have a detrimental effect on the online activity that these platforms can influence. Eight in 10 respondents claim to have changed at least something about how they behave online compared to a year ago. While the most common change is to avoid opening emails from unknown email addresses (43%), sizable proportions are also avoiding certain web applications (30%), making fewer financial transactions online (14%), making fewer online purchases (12%) and closing Facebook and other social media accounts (10%).

In essence then, to the extent that online platforms contribute to privacy concerns, they could invite a backlash against their very services. Although, it should be noted, the Cambridge Analytica scandal didn’t seem to result in any such hardships for Facebook: three-quarters of Facebook users report being as active or even more active on the platform since the privacy scandal, per research from Reuters and Ipsos

About the Data: The Ipsos, CIGI and Internet Society survey was conducted between December 29, 2017, and March 5, 2018 in 25 economies: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States. Roughly 1,000 internet users were surveyed in each of those economies, weighted to match the population in each.

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