Yesterday, Ben shared some findings from the recent Tech.pinions/Creative Strategies survey on privacy and security. Today, I’m going to share with Insiders more details from that survey based on three questions we asked about specific companies — Apple, Facebook, and Google.
Those companies were in the rankings Ben shared yesterday, with Apple on top for protecting both privacy and security, although roughly tied with Microsoft in second place. Google scored fairly highly on both metrics as well, ranking third on both, albeit some distance behind Apple and Microsoft. Facebook, on the other hand, scored much lower, bringing up the rear with fellow social apps Twitter and Snapchat. But it’s worth digging a little deeper to understand the details behind those ratings.
Apple’s recent emphasis on privacy has helped
Apple has emphasized privacy often and forcefully over the past couple of years and it’s fair to say it’s a major facet of Tim Cook’s leadership at Apple. In fact, one of the reasons for doing this survey was to see how many people actually (a) understand and (b) care enough about privacy and security for this to be a successful strategy. So one of the questions we asked was about how Apple’s recent emphasis on privacy had affected people’s trust of Apple when it comes to their privacy. For the purposes of this survey, we separated out the more mainstream users from those who described themselves as particularly tech-savvy and those who see themselves as early adopters, so the results shown below reflect this mainstream group, excluding the outliers.
As you can see, around two thirds of respondents haven’t been moved very much either way but around a quarter have been influenced positively by Apple’s recent statements. In other words, they trust Apple with their privacy more now than they did before. Another 14% of these mainstream users are fundamentally skeptical anyone can protect their privacy and a very small group, somehow, went the opposite way in their perception of Apple’s ability to protect their privacy. Interestingly, when we look at the tech-savvy respondents independently, their responses skew much more towards the “I trust them more now” group – 65% of them responded in this way.
Facebook has some real work to do
I mentioned Facebook scored lower than Apple, Microsoft, or Google. It’s worth digging a little deeper into that question as it regards privacy. The survey asked respondents which of several statements best reflected their views about Facebook. The answers are shown below with both mainstream users and tech-savvy users’ responses.
As you can see for both groups, the statement the largest number of respondents chose was they share less on Facebook than they normally would because they’re worried about privacy. A little under half the mainstream users and a little over half the tech-savvy users responded in this way. This is interesting in the context of recent reports about organic sharing on Facebook falling – though there are other factors including the ease of simply re-sharing existing content and a sense that no-one will see your text-only posts in the algorithmic News Feed — this worry about sharing personal information may be an inhibitor to more personal, organic sharing. However, at least those people are still using Facebook, even if in a slightly inhibited fashion. There was another set of respondents, around a quarter of mainstream users and over a third of tech savvy users, who don’t use Facebook at all because they’re concerned about privacy.
All this is interesting because it’s been a long time since there was a major public outcry about Facebook and privacy – there certainly was a period a few years back when Facebook gained something of a reputation for being opaque about privacy settings and driving users to share with wider audiences than they intended to but that’s long since past. More recently, Facebook has been more careful and clear in its privacy policies and even proactively points out to users when they may be sharing more broadly than they think. So a lot of this perception of Facebook was either shaped during those earlier times and hasn’t caught up with reality, or people simply don’t buy that Facebook is really doing what it says it is. Either way, that’s bad news for Facebook, especially when taken together with the other responses about worries information is at risk and the general “creepy” factor.
Google fares better in spite of privacy worries
When it comes to Google, there’s a fascinating duality – people are concerned about privacy but willing to use Google’s services anyway. The chart below shows equivalent data to the Facebook chart above, although the statements offered were slightly different:
The first thing that stands out among the mainstream users (shown in blue) is fully half don’t feel like they have a good sense of what information Google has on them. Though that number is quite a bit lower for tech-savvy users, it’s still over a quarter of the total. In other words, even those who consider themselves well informed about technology feel they have a poor understanding of what information Google collects on them and, for mainstream users, the problem is much worse. This was a multiple answer question and so some of those same users will have also chosen other statements, among which was, “I use Google’s services and am concerned how much information they have on me.” For mainstream users, that statement was chosen by around a third, whereas with tech savvy-users, it got votes from half the respondents.
In other words, though we might think the more informed someone is about Google’s data collection, the less they’d worry about it, the opposite is the case: the better informed people think they are, the more concerned they are about Google’s data collection. The last statement on the chart reinforces this perception – while very few people in our mainstream sample said they didn’t use Google services at all for privacy reasons, over a quarter of those early adopters said so. Taken together, that’s 77% of our tech-savvy sample who said they either don’t use Google’s services at all for privacy reasons or they use them despite misgivings over the privacy implications. Even for mainstream users, the combined total is 44%.
The other thing worth noting in combining the responses about Facebook and Google is the percentage of respondents who said they were OK with Google’s targeting of ads based on personal data. It was much higher than those saying the same about Facebook – over a quarter said this about Google, but only 10% felt the same about Facebook.
As Ben pointed out yesterday, the group of people who care deeply enough about privacy to take serious measures like taping over their webcams is a minority – around 15-20%. Apple’s emphasis on its privacy stance may well have helped persuade some in this group it’s best placed to protect them among major smartphone and PC vendors. But what the Facebook and Google data shows, especially in the context of their massive user numbers, is many people continue to use popular free services despite, in some cases, having serious misgivings about their privacy protections. That’s an explicit tradeoff between privacy and cost, or a recognition of the price to be paid for well-targeted ads. But in others, it’s a willingness to use certain services even without knowing very much about the data being collected or how it will be used. Facebook and Google can certainly do better in educating their users on that front but, for now, it doesn’t seem to be hurting them much, especially among mainstream users.