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Americans Aren’t Willing to Trust the Government with Their Data

Kathryn Robinson reveals the results of a recent Privacy Tiger study on US attitudes towards privacy

The US is in a state of tumult. In America we are wary of one another, wary of businesses, and wary of our own government. While faith in authority has plagued society for centuries, distrust in the powers that be has exploded in the digital era.

One of the leading causes of this surge of distrust? Data.

As Americans, we have data collected about every facet of our lives from every imaginable source. One of the most prominent collectors of data is, of course, the US government.

While the patriotic narrative would have us believe that information about ourselves and our communities is gathered and used for our own good, people are unconvinced.

Privacy Tiger conducted an independent study to assess just how unwilling Americans are to put their trust behind the government when it comes to personal data.

Comparing Trust in the Government and Facebook

To conduct the study, Privacy Tiger posed the question:

Who do you trust more with your personal data: the US government or Facebook?

Facebook was chosen as the point of comparison given its less-than-pristine reputation with data handling. From the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting disaster to the questionable sharing of individuals’ health data, Facebook is the poster child for data abuse.

Even so, faith in the government is so low that Privacy Tiger’s study revealed that 32% of people still trust Facebook to handle their personal data more than they trust their information in the hands of our country’s representatives.

Among the respondents unwilling to forfeit trust to the government, the survey unveiled some interesting patterns:

Women Are Less Likely to Trust the Government with Their Data

The study concluded that women are a whopping 74% more likely than men to trust Facebook over the US government with their data.

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Image: Privacy Tiger

It’s not hard to deduce why women may be more distrustful of the US government.

With women comprising less than a third of all major political bodies, the government is hardly representative of the 51% female population in the US. As we climb up the power ladder of US politics, the representative gap looks even bleaker, with females only making up:

  • 25% of the Senate
  • 23% of the House of Representatives
  • 0% of the Presidency (past and present)

With such an underwhelming presence of voice in the government, why should women trust that their personal data will be used with their interests in mind?

Southerners Have Little Faith in the Government

The American South showed 40% less trust in the government compared to the Northeast.

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Image: Privacy Tiger

The South has historically been affiliated with anti-government sentiment. Secessionist dreams never fully died with the Civil War, and laissez-faire politics continue to make waves in the region, with parties like the Libertarian Party on the rise.

All of this to say, the South doesn’t make any disguise of their distaste for the powers at large.

Furthermore, many Southerners claim the government has long neglected the region. The Civil War left Dixie in a state of upheaval that Reconstruction never fully repaired. To top it off, the federal response to disasters like Hurricane Katrina leaves something to be desired, and spending on infrastructure favors Western states.

With evidence suggesting the South is routinely ignored by the government, it’s no wonder the region’s residents are hesitant to hand over their data.

What Now?

Data is everywhere and plays a role in everything. While Facebook has access to plenty, the US government has access to more. Here’s a look at what information the two giants collect:

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Image: Privacy Tiger

If the government has access to this much data - and the American people trust them to handle it responsibly this little - where do we go from here?

One solution is to implement laws that better serve individuals’ rights over their own data. Europe is the leading example of data privacy laws, having installed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which regulates the collection and sharing of consumer data.

In short, the GDPR for dummies handbook tells businesses to:

  • Only collect the data you need
  • Protect the data you collect
  • Be honest with people about how you treat their data

These guidelines are lauded as the pinnacle of modern-day data privacy standards. However, the GDPR is meant to hold businesses, rather than the government, accountable.

If the US were to implement a similar law at the federal level - and hold the government to the same standards as businesses - maybe the American people could breathe easier about which hands their data falls into.