Suspicion of Data Gathering Continues to Grow

Video produced by Steve Nathans-Kelly

At Data Summit Connect 2020, Lee Rainie, Director, internet and technology Research, Pew Research Center, discussed Americans' growing protectiveness toward their personal information and the difficulties that imposes on data-gathering efforts.

Full videos of Data Summit Connect 2020 presentations are available at

"We were gathering this data in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak in the context of lots of privacy work that we had done over the years, the most recent of which I'm going to walk you through right now, which came out in a report that we issued in November," Rainie said. "So, literally around the time the first Coronavirus cases were occurring in Wuhan, China we did a survey and reported on how Americans are concerned and confused and don't feel like they have control over their personal information. That's sort of the grand story of the past decade or 15 years: This wariness, this confusion, this concern, this distrust of data collectors has become more pronounced for a variety of reasons."

According to the data underlying that report, by and large people say they don't feel like they have control over the data that companies or the government collects, Rainie explained. Respondents to the report feel that the potential risks of collecting the data about them outweigh the benefits.

"There are so many interesting and important and good stories to tell about uses of data that have made improvements in people's lives. But the public is just not generally sold on the idea, particularly in the case of companies providing them benefits from the data collection that is being done," Rainie said.

People are concerned over how the data is collected and they have very little understanding of what the data is then being used for. 

"A lot of this now falls on the data collection companies and the analytics companies, because people don't necessarily trust them. There's a huge story, of course for a generation or more in this country about Americans being less and less trusting and confident in all kinds of institutions, starting with the government, but also corporations, their churches, and things like that," Rainie said. "And so when we asked specifically about the stewards of these data and whether people were confident that the data being collected would be in good hands, they're not convinced that the companies that collect the data would publicly admit mistakes and take responsibility for it. They're not convinced that they would be held accountable by outside authorities to account for the way they use the data. They are not sure that the data would be used in ways that make them comfortable. And they certainly aren't sure that they would be notified if there were any problems, if the data were misused or compromised or hacked into."