WebDAV: Balancing Collaboration and Data Privacy

As our lives increasingly move online, internet privacy has become a critical issue for Americans. From social media to online shopping, we share vast amounts of personal data every day, often without realizing it. But what happens to all that data, and who‘s watching?

To shed light on the state of internet privacy in the US, we‘ve compiled 12 vital statistics every American should know in 2024. These numbers paint a picture of a data ecosystem where personal information is constantly collected, analyzed, and sold, often without our knowledge or control.

But knowledge is power. By understanding the scope of the problem, we can start to take back control of our digital lives. Here‘s what you need to know.

Data Privacy in the United States

Let‘s start with some big-picture statistics on data privacy in the US:

1. Americans spend over 7 hours per day online.

According to a 2023 report by GlobalWebIndex, the average American spends 7 hours and 4 minutes per day using the internet across all devices. That‘s over 49 hours per week—more than a full-time job.

With so much of our time spent online, it‘s no surprise that digital privacy is a major concern. The more we use the internet, the more data we generate, and the more opportunities there are for that data to be collected, shared, and misused.

2. 79% of Americans are concerned about how companies use their data.

A 2022 survey by Pew Research Center found that nearly 8 in 10 Americans are concerned about how businesses use the data they collect about them. And they have good reason to be worried.

Many companies collect far more data than they need, often without clearly disclosing how that data will be used. They may sell it to third-party data brokers, use it to target ads, or even share it with government agencies. All of this happens behind the scenes, leaving consumers in the dark about where their personal information ends up.

3. The data broker industry is worth over $200 billion.

Speaking of data brokers, did you know there‘s a massive industry devoted to collecting and selling your personal data? According to a 2021 report by the Future of Privacy Forum, the data broker industry generates over $200 billion in annual revenue.

These companies gather data from a variety of sources—public records, online tracking, purchase histories, and more—and package it into detailed consumer profiles. Those profiles can include everything from your income and credit score to your health conditions and political affiliations. Brokers then sell this data to marketers, financial institutions, and even the government.

Infographic on size of data broker industry

So chances are, even if you‘ve never heard of data brokers, they know a whole lot about you. And there‘s very little transparency around their practices.

4. Only 5% of Americans always read privacy policies.

One reason companies get away with so much data collection is that most of us don‘t read privacy policies. A 2020 survey by Deloitte found that only 5% of US consumers always read privacy policies before agreeing to them, while 41% never do.

In fairness, privacy policies are often long, dense, and full of legal jargon. One study estimated that it would take the average American 76 work days to read all the privacy policies they encounter in a year. But the hard truth is, when we click "agree" without reading, we‘re signing away our data privacy rights.

5. Over 80% of companies collect more data than necessary.

Here‘s the kicker: most companies don‘t even need all the data they collect on us. A 2019 survey by KPMG found that over 80% of companies collect more data than they require for business purposes.

So why do they do it? In some cases, it‘s a "just in case" mentality—better to have the data and not need it than need it and not have it. But more often, it‘s about money. Our personal data is a valuable commodity that can be sold to advertisers and other third parties. The more data a company has, the more revenue they can generate.

This "collect it all" approach to data not only violates our privacy, but also puts our information at greater risk. The larger a company‘s data trove, the more attractive a target it is for hackers and cybercriminals.

Social Media and Online Privacy

Now let‘s zoom in on social media, where some of the biggest privacy risks occur.

6. Facebook has over 180 petabytes of user data.

To put that in perspective, 1 petabyte is equivalent to 500 billion pages of standard printed text. And Facebook has 180 times that amount of data on its users.

The social media giant collects an astonishing array of information, including your posts, photos, messages, location, device data, and even things like your facial features and cursor movements. It uses this data to target ads, suggest content, and build detailed profiles of your behavior and preferences.

And Facebook is just one of countless social media platforms collecting our data. From TikTok to LinkedIn, our online lives are under constant surveillance.

Infographic on social media data collection

7. social media users generate $207 billion in advertising revenue per year.

So what‘s the business model behind all this data collection? In a word: advertising. Social media platforms offer their services for free, then make money by selling ads tailored to our personal data.

And it‘s big business. In 2023, social media advertising revenue worldwide reached $207 billion, according to Statista. That‘s more than the GDP of many countries.

In essence, we‘re paying for social media with our privacy and attention. The more time we spend on these platforms, the more data they collect on us, and the more ads they can serve us. It‘s a vicious cycle that‘s hard to escape.

8. Less than a third of people trust social media companies to handle their data responsibly.

Given the scope of social media data collection, it‘s no surprise that trust is wearing thin. A 2022 survey by Insider Intelligence found that only 29% of US social media users have confidence in platforms to protect their data and privacy.

The barrage of data breaches, privacy scandals, and misinformation on social media in recent years has eroded public trust. From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the recent whistleblower allegations against Meta, social media companies have repeatedly shown that profits come before privacy.

9. TikTok and other new social platforms pose emerging privacy risks.

While Facebook and Google have faced the brunt of privacy criticisms, newer social media apps are hardly innocent. Take TikTok, the wildly popular video-sharing app owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

TikTok has faced accusations of aggressive data harvesting, as well as concerns that user data could be accessed by the Chinese government. The app has been banned from government devices in several countries due to national security risks.

But TikTok is just one example. As new social platforms emerge and gain traction—like Clubhouse, BeReal, and Mastodon—they bring new privacy challenges. Often, these apps lack clear privacy policies and safeguards, leaving early adopters exposed.

Consumer Privacy Attitudes and Behaviors

So how are consumers responding to these privacy threats? Let‘s take a look.

10. 74% of Americans have taken steps to limit online privacy risks.

According to a 2023 survey by Attest, nearly 3 in 4 Americans have taken some action to protect their privacy online. The most common steps include:

  • Using privacy-focused browsers like DuckDuckGo
  • Installing ad blockers and anti-tracking tools
  • Opting out of data sharing when possible
  • Using virtual private networks (VPNs)

This suggests a growing awareness of privacy risks and a desire for more control over personal data. However, the fact that 26% haven‘t taken any steps shows there‘s still a knowledge gap.

Chart of actions taken to protect online privacy

11. Younger generations are more likely to use privacy tools.

Interestingly, privacy concerns and behaviors vary by age. A 2022 study by Security.org found that younger generations, particularly Gen Z and Millennials, are more likely to use privacy protection tools like VPNs and encrypted messaging apps.

This could be because younger people grow up with the internet and are more tech-savvy than their elders. They‘re also more likely to be active on social media, where privacy risks are high.

However, this doesn‘t mean older generations don‘t care about privacy. They may just have different concerns (e.g. identity theft over social media tracking) and favor different solutions (e.g. credit monitoring over VPNs).

12. GDPR and CCPA have raised the bar for privacy protection.

Finally, it‘s worth noting how privacy regulations are starting to change the game. In 2018, the European Union‘s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) set a new global standard for data privacy, giving individuals more control over how their data is collected and used.

In the US, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) followed suit, granting California residents the right to know what personal data companies collect, delete it, and opt out of its sale. Laws like these are forcing companies to be more transparent and accountable in their data practices.

While the US still lacks a comprehensive federal privacy law, the tide is turning. As more states pass their own laws and consumers demand change, a national framework may be on the horizon. In the meantime, GDPR and CCPA offer a glimpse of what a more privacy-focused future could look like.

Conclusion

The state of internet privacy in America is precarious. Our personal data is under constant surveillance, bought and sold like a commodity, often without our knowledge or consent. The risks range from annoying targeted ads to serious threats like identity theft and manipulation.

But there‘s hope. As these 12 statistics show, awareness of privacy issues is growing, and consumers are starting to fight back. By taking steps to protect our data, supporting privacy regulations, and demanding more from the companies we interact with online, we can start to reclaim our digital lives.

The first step is staying informed. By understanding the scope of the problem and the tactics companies use to track us, we can make smarter choices about what we share online and how we protect ourselves. We can opt out of data collection when possible, use privacy tools, and think critically about the apps and platforms we use.

But individual actions will only get us so far. To truly shift the balance of power, we need systemic change. That means supporting politicians and policies that prioritize consumer privacy, holding companies accountable for data breaches and misuse, and imagining new business models that don‘t rely on surveillance capitalism.

The fight for internet privacy is a daunting one, but it‘s not hopeless. As more people wake up to the risks and demand change, we have the power to create a more privacy-focused future. It won‘t happen overnight, but with awareness, action, and advocacy, we can slowly take back control of our digital lives. The first step is arming ourselves with knowledge—and these 12 statistics are a good place to start.