For those concerned about their privacy, last week was an important one. January 28th was Data Privacy Day, with many organizations releasing transparency reports that highlighted how and with whom user information is being shared. For example, both Google and Twitter made public their transparency reports, highlighting how they responded to official requests for user information. These reports indicate which governments have been requesting data from these sites, how often these requests are made, and how often any data is actually turned over.
These requests come as studies show that users are becoming more concerned about their privacy in general. An independent Ponemon study found that users in the United States are more concerned than ever before about the privacy of their personal information, with 78% of respondents agreeing. At the same time, fewer users feel that they do have control of their information, with only 35% agreeing with the statement.
Social media sites also fare quite poorly in the trust department. Of the 25 industries covered by the survey, Internet and social media firms were least trusted. The most trusted company in this sector is Mozilla, which is a non-profit. Well-known online names like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are nowhere to be found on the list.
Users are infamously fickle when it comes to online services. Perhaps this is because users don’t have much trust in the privacy and safety of the services they’re using, and thus have no reason to stay loyal with a service? There is clearly a trust gap between service providers and their users; in fact many users have given their information to bodies that they themselves may not know or trust (63%, according to Ponemon).
Beyond just including when and how they give up information to official sources, perhaps it’s time for Internet companies to make more explicitly clear what they do and don’t do with user data. Perhaps, if this data was made available as part of transparency reports, Internet companies would be able to crawl out of the trust cellar.