From their vantage point in the cradle of high tech, Bay Area voters deeply distrust social media companies with their personal and financial information and favour government regulation of Internet privacy and security more than the rest of the country, according to a new poll.
Just 17% of voters in Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties trust social media companies such as Menlo Park's Facebook and San Francisco's Twitter to keep their personal and financial data secure, according to the poll conducted on behalf of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Bay Area News Group. Considering the poll respondents' tech savvy – a characteristic apparent in other survey results – their scepticism underscores the self-inflicted damage wrought by the industry's recent run of shoddy data practices and poor consumer relations.
“As an industry, they have some work to do in restoring trust and confidence,” said David Metz, whose firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates conducted the poll last month.
More than four in five Bay Area voters – 86% – are concerned about the security of their online personal and financial information, the poll found, and that two out of three – 67% – have had their data compromised. More than half – 51% – said government should do more to regulate how companies use consumers' information.
“It reflects a depth of concern that isn't common to every issue,” Metz said. “For most members of the public, this isn't something where they were whipped up by reading stories in the media. They feel at risk because they've had their data breached.”
The poll comes amid an effort to qualify a California ballot measure that would require companies doing business in the state to tell consumers what personal information they collect from them and stop selling it upon request. It would also make companies more accountable for data breaches.
It's no accident that these efforts are underway in California. Distrust in the rest of the country has been slow to catch up. A national Reuters poll in March found 41% trusted social media's biggest brand – Facebook – with their personal information, and that just 46% of adults wanted more government regulation of how companies use personal and financial data.
Security breaches are affecting all sorts of companies that have left consumers vulnerable to identity theft and fraud or exposed personal information that they had assumed would be kept private.
In March, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company failed its users after reports that British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested up to 87 million Facebook user profiles without their consent.
Poll respondent Shannan Carpenter of Richmond was so disgusted she deleted her Facebook account.
“That sealed the deal,” said Carpenter, 36, a political independent who works for a non-profit and said that while she hasn't personally had her own information compromised, she believes the government needs to step in more.
But it was only the latest in a steady drumbeat of data breaches: Uber (November, 57 million users), Yahoo (October, 3 billion users), Equifax (September, 148 million users), Myspace (May 2016, 360 million users), LinkedIn (May 2016, 100 million users), Anthem (February 2015, 80 million users), Target (November 2013, 145 million users), JP Morgan Chase (September 2014, 83 million users).
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents major Silicon Valley technology companies, opposes the proposed privacy ballot measure, arguing it goes “too far” and lacked industry input.
Late last week, lawmakers in Sacramento proposed a bill that could substitute the privacy ballot measure while addressing some industry concerns about liability. The leadership group has not taken a position on the bill.
“We'll all have to come together to create a viable solution moving forward,” said Peter Leroe-Muñoz, vice-president of technology and innovation.
But Sara Tansey, 30, a San Francisco Democrat who works in technology, said more regulation is needed because “the companies don't seem to be taking steps toward doing this better”.
Most Bay Area voters had taken steps to protect their data, including 69% creating stronger passwords, 57% requesting a free credit check, 54% regularly changing their passwords and 51% changing privacy settings on their social media accounts.
Majorities of Bay Area voters said they trusted health care and finance companies with their data but not telecommunications and social media companies. Respondents like Robert Kukuchka, 39, an independent from San Francisco, said that's because the very nature of social media is sharing everything.
“The aim of social media is constantly at odds with privacy,” Kukuchka said. “Unless we have a paid social media platform, profitability is going to be pushing against the privacy.”
The poll found that current and former technology workers and conservatives were less supportive of more government regulation of online data stewardship than liberals and those unconnected to the tech industry. But respondent Andrew Randall, 24, a San Francisco Democrat, said that his work in the technology industry makes him more inclined toward government regulation.
“I know what they do and how the information is leveraged,” Randall said. “I could guarantee that people wouldn't want their data leveraged if they knew how it was being used.”
Carolyn Graham, 64, a Discovery Bay Republican who calls herself a “real anti-big-government type person”, said she doesn't have much faith in social media or telecommunications companies to protect her data. But “if companies don't take responsibility”, she said, “the government should step in”.
The poll of 1834 registered voters in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Bay Area News Group. The poll, conducted from May 5-14, has a margin of error of +/- 2.3 percentage points. — The San Jose Mercury News/Tribune News Service
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