Guard your Internet privacy

Many Americans have given up the fight against Big Data

It seems like we’ve realized the future is less like The Jetsons and more like 1984 — and we’re resigned to it, according to new research.

Last week’s Consumer Reports survey of 3,100 American adults finds about 62 percent of consumers have done nothing to protect their Internet privacy. That’s after a crazy year of identity theft and data breaches, where one in seven people (up 56 percent from 2012) were told their data was exposed.

Consulting firm Accenture also released a new survey (and infographic, shown above). This one questioned 2,000 adults ages 20-40, with half from the U.S. and half from the U.K. It found only 64 percent are concerned about websites tracking their buying behavior, down from 85 percent in a 2012 survey. It also found:

  • About half are OK with being tracked in exchange for relevant advertising.
  • 70 percent believe businesses don’t explain how their data is used.
  • Nearly two-thirds would like to receive text messages from a retailer, while they’re in a store, that would steer them toward offers they might like.
  •  2 in 5 believe only 10 percent of their personal data is private.

The British are definitely the more ornery side of that survey, judging by yet another one — this time without any Americans. Data management company TRUSTe surveyed 2,000 British adults and found 6 in 10 knew smart TVs, fitness devices, and car GPSes can collect data on them, and only 14 percent were comfortable with ad companies having that data.

Internet privacy settings can have ramifications for your personal information. Get protection.

It also found just 22 percent felt the benefits of smart devices made the privacy sacrifice worth it, and that 85 percent wanted to understand the data being collected before using smart devices.

If you take the more British view and want to do something to protect your data — and minimize your risk when these collectors inevitably get hacked — there are a lot of things you can do, from the extreme (check out this story of a woman who tried to hide her pregnancy from marketers and looked like a criminal doing it) to the simple tips below…

  • Decline to give your contact information. Almost anywhere you shop these days, cashiers will blithely request your phone number or email address before processing your purchase. Why? Like those free reward cards, it’s an easy way to tie together your shopping habits and build a customer profile.
  • Use privacy plugins. The Privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends some tools you can install in your web browser to block ads and thwart data collection.
  • Call or email your Congresspeople. You can look up your House representative here and your senators here. Tell them you want legislation passed incorporating the Federal Trade Commission’s recent recommendations on data brokers, which would force them to create a centralized location for personal data (like you see for your credit reports) and clear opt-out options, among other things.

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