Study: Everybody Wants Privacy, Doesn’t Want To Do Anything To Get It

New study shows a wide discrepancy between people's attitudes and actions

(Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso / Vocativ)
Mar 14, 2016 at 11:08 AM ET

Plenty of people across Europe and the United States agree on the importance of keeping their data private. But according to a new survey, far fewer are willing to do anything to protect it.

Software company Open-Xchange created a report, titled “Consumer Openness Index,” by surveying 1,000 people each from Germany, the UK and the U.S. While results varied from country to country, the gist of people’s views remained fairly consistent. Government intrusion is a serious problem, people find, but the tools to protect themselves online—like using email encryption services or encrypting their iPhones—are hard to use and seem like they might not do much good anyway.

“They’re right in one sense,” Matthew Green, a cryptographer and computer scientist professor at Johns Hopkins University, told Vocativ. “There’s a lot of information that governments have access to that isn’t even close to covered by encryption.” But, he says, “Encrypted email works really well—if nobody can compromise your phone or your computer.”

Even if you don’t bother to set up an email encryption system, it’s at least clear that Apple’s phone encryption gives the government some pause. “There’s certain information that encryption really does protect,” Green said. “For example, the stuff on phones right now in the San Bernardino case is apparently pretty well protected.”

Here’s how privacy attitudes break down across the UK, Germany and the United States: