Internet privacy is steadily becoming the battle meme of 2012 and as the topic permeates the household vocabulary, one fact emerges more salient than any other: people don’t want to be tracked.
To wit: a Consumer Reports survey released yesterday reveals that 71% of internet users are “very concerned” about the way companies are collecting and distributing user information gathered from their internet activity. Among consumers concerns:
A separate poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times and USC Dornsife revealed that nobody really trusts the Silicon Valley pantheon with their personal information. In a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 meaning absolute trust and 0 meaning “I wouldn’t trust them to change my lightbulbs,” no company scored above a 5. Apple scored the highest at 4.6; Google followed at 3.8, LinkedIn at 3.0, YouTube at 2.8, Facebook at 2.7, and Twitter bringing up the rear at 2.4. Beyond that, 82% of California voters said they are “very/somewhat concerned” about companies tracking their internet activity.
If that wasn’t enough, Google’s own Justin Cutroni had a rude awakening when he decided to use Google’s recently released Consumer Surveys tool and asked Google users if they thought businesses should be able to anonymously track your actions on their website. A walloping 84.7% replied with a resounding “No.” It was amusing to see Cutroni attempt to minimize what seemed like a backhanded rebuttal to Google’s own practices: “I was a bit surprised!”
Poll after poll, the point is clear: nobody wants to be tracked. More polls will surely be conducted in order to show us this fact we already know. So the question is, who among these tech companies is screwing up? If the practice of tracking user information online is really not such a bad thing, then companies like Facebook and Google need to start over with a new stable of handlers because the current ones effectively suck at convincing consumers that they mean no harm. To his credit, Cutroni did remark on the Google Consumer Polls results that Google “really needs to explain what we do and why we do it.”
Until then, the majority of people are going to operate – possibly correctly – that all data-collecting tech companies are up to no good. Without a satisfying, fear-extinguishing explanation, why should people presume otherwise?
And if tech companies can’t sufficiently and truthfully explain the practice in a way that allays any concern of consumers, then it probably means that the companies are, in fact, up to no good.