Learning how people in the U.S. view online privacy and data usage in 2021

The collection of large, diverse, and ever-growing data sets creates the potential to reveal human behavioral patterns and trends. With the widespread adoption of Virtual and Augmented Realities (XR hereafter) on the horizon, these data streams will only grow in number and intensity and new types of inferences could be made about people.

Data can include photos, posts, and browsing histories, as well as ongoing data collection through microphones and videos that will capture not only the user of the technology, but bystanders as well. Included in these data streams will be biometric data such as eye gaze, pupil dilation, facial muscle tracking and body movement tracking, which all contain personally identifiable information that could put people’s privacy and security at risk if shared or leaked.

To understand how consumers feel about current and imminent data collection practices, The Extended Mind surveyed 1,010 people in the United States with funding from Facebook Reality Labs. Responses were weighted to the census for gender, age, census region, ethnicity/race and household income. The purpose of the survey was to gather people’s attitudes towards data collection practices, as well as assess their knowledge of existing protections and gauge their engagement levels in personal privacy management.

This blog post will give you an introduction to the research and will be followed by a series of blog posts diving deeper into the findings that arose from the survey.

Persistent Discomfort with Potential Data Uses

Survey respondents were most uncomfortable with their data being sold to health insurance companies, law enforcement, and advertisers. Across all use cases, about a third of all respondents were uncomfortable with any data usage scenario that was tested.

The discomfort levels reported here indicate that people have preferences when it comes to how their data is used. It’s no surprise, then, that a large percent of consumers reported taking their privacy into their own hands. Eight-seven percent of survey respondents reported using at least one privacy or security service (ad blockers, password managers, Delete Me, VPN, etc.) and 50% reported paying for one.

Employer Use of Data to Make Inferences About Employees

We also inquired about enterprise use cases, specifically about people’s comfort level with employers using data collected from wearable devices to make inferences about their employees. In these examples, discomfort levels remained high amongst survey respondents, almost matching the levels reported when data was being sold.

Employees reported their highest level of discomfort about an employer being informed about the employee looking for a new job. Subsequent predictions about the likelihood of the employee using recreational drugs, having a disability that affects their work, or reporting how attentive an employee was in a meeting were things the majority of respondents found uncomfortable.
Some employees already report employers asking them to do things they consider a privacy risk.

When asking about employer and employee privacy, we learned that 9% (n=91) of all respondents reported that an employer has asked them to use a technological program or service that posed a risk to their privacy.

State and Local Privacy Protections

We were also curious to assess people’s knowledge of existing privacy protection laws (such as the California Consumer Privacy Act or CCPA) and their awareness of living in a place with any type of facial recognition ban.

California Consumer Privacy Act
Interestingly, those inside and outside of California claimed the CCPA’s protections at similar rates. Almost a third (32%, n=58) of Californians (n=181) claimed none of the protections offered to them and only 28% (n=50) of the same accurately claimed at least three or more protections. Future research should explore if respondents answered based on their expectations of protections rather than based on actual knowledge. A second question would be to learn to what extent California residents utilize their available protections.

Facial Recognition Bans
There were 257 survey respondents who live in a U.S. geography with a facial recognition ban. Of that subset of respondents, only 11% (n=28) reported awareness of living in a place with one. It’s unclear why awareness of these types of protection was low, especially considering the discomfort around use of data above and actions people are taking to manage privacy on their own. Another area for further research is why people who lived in places without a facial recognition ban claimed the protection at similar rates.

Conclusion

This research provides a perspective on how one sample of people living in the U.S. conceive of their privacy today and gives direction on future research topics. For example, how do people evaluate tradeoffs when choosing what technologies to use? Location tracking was cited as a setting that people in the survey frequently turn off, but certain apps, especially Augmented Reality apps may not work without that location data.

We hope that the full report, which covers how profiles aggregated with biometric data and bystander privacy are viewed by people today, can inform policy makers, regulators, and product teams who are looking at XR data collection and applications.

Stay tuned for the next blog post in this series!

To learn more about this research you can download the full report at: www.extendedmind.io/survey

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Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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Jessica Outlaw

Jessica Outlaw

Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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