Americans don’t like how Silicon Valley is using their data

AFP Photo / John Moore
​ Though Americans are handing over more and more of their confidential information to private companies such as Facebook and Google, they are less and less comfortable with how it is being used.

Over six in 10 ‒ 65 percent ‒ of people have “come to accept that I have little control over what marketers can learn about me online,” according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.

READ MORE: US promises EU citizens more privacy rights over data protection

Despite this, 55 percent disagreed that it was alright for private companies to store this information for the purpose of targeting customers for advertisements and personalized services.

Over 70 percent of respondents said they were not comfortable with their internet traffic being monitored by a store in exchange for free Wi-Fi, and 91 percent said that they didn’t think that it was fair to have their data collected in exchange for a discount.

The tech world appears to be responsive to this kind of consumer concern. Google recently launched a central control panel, called Google Dashboard, where users can make adjustments to their privacy and security settings across all of the company’s services.

READ MORE: 72% of Brits concerned about online privacy since Snowden leaks

On Monday evening, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, was honored for his ‘corporate leadership’ at Electronic Privacy Information Center’s (EPIC) Champions of Freedom conference. Speaking via video feed to the Washington, DC location, he got straight to the point: “Like many of you, we at Apple reject the idea that our customers should have to make trade-offs between privacy and security.”

“We can, and we must, provide both in equal measure. We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy. The American people demand it, the constitution demands it, morality demands it,” he said.

Cook’s characteristic passion was not lost over the remote video stream, and he made it clear that it was reprehensible for companies to collect information about everything users do in order to sell their information and advertise to them is morally reprehensible, with Google and Facebook as the implied targets of his criticism.

“I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” said Cook.

“They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”

Though Apple’s CEO made a stinging attack against the practices of other Silicon Valley companies, his company came under scrutiny for data privacy practices in Germany in 2011.

The anxiety of Americans may be justified. Other major companies have recently had supposedly private customer data compromised by security breaches. On Black Friday in 2013 ‒ the biggest shopping day of the year ‒ the credit card details of up to 40 million of retail giant Target’s customers were compromised by hackers. In 2014, Home Depot was hit by the very same malware as Target, and financial titan JP Morgan suffered from a data breach that affected more than half of American households.