A new study conducted by social scientists at the University of Southern California demonstrates that at least 38 percent of Americans aged 16 and older who regularly use the Internet are worried about the federal government – and Fortune 1000 companies – monitoring their cyber-conduct. So it’s no longer just the federal government the folks are fretting about – it’s Google too.
The research was produced by the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and is the tenth annual study in the Digital Future Project.
According to the center’s director, Jeffrey I. Cole, Internet users have significant concerns about corporate intrusion, not just government interference in private lives. “And who can blame them?” said Cole, in a statement to the news media.
While just over a third of Internet users are worried about the government checking what they do online, nearly half (48 percent) expressed concerns about companies checking their actions on the Internet.
“Considering the recent revelations about covert surveillance of personal behavior through GPS tracking and other related issues, we believe that user concerns about the involvement – some would say encroachment – of companies into the lives of Internet users represent a significant issue,” said Cole.
Other experts agreed, in part. In an interview with The Christian Post, Dr. Jane Orient, a clinical lecturer in medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and noted author and public policy expert, said there is widespread concern that business is getting too much access to too many details of Americans’ private lives via online marketing tools.
“Big business just wants to sell you something,” Orient said.
But what she fears is business selling the government aggregated data for policing purposes. “Almost everything you do, or don’t do, could be a crime under some obscure regulation,” said Orient, “if someone looks hard enough.”
The survey found that 33 percent of American Internet users found it safe to voice their views about politics online. However, 36 percent do not believe it is safe to say whatever one thinks about politics online. A much larger percentage – 70 percent – of users believe that people should be free on the Internet to criticize their government. More than half of users – 55 percent – agreed with the concept that people should be able to express their ideas on the Internet, even if those ideas are extreme.
“What possible use can Big Government have for all that information,” asks Orient. “The entity has SWAT teams, prisons, and the power to take everything you have.”
The Center for the Digital Future’s survey was conducted between April and August 2010 via telephone and web. A total of 1,926 Americans age 12 and older were polled. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.