A poll touted as demonstrating that consumers are more worried about hackers than about persistent tracking of their online activities says more about research bias than the sensibilities of U.S. consumers.
The telephone survey of 1,000 voters was conducted in November and released Dec. 20 by its sponsor, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) – an organization created to lobby for the interests of computer- and telecommunications companies.
Poll results show 75 percent of U.S. consumers are worried about having their personal information stolen by hackers, and 54 percent are worried about their online behavior being tracked by advertisers and online service providers.
The CCIA’s interpretation of that result – plus a series of leading questions and questionable statistical interpretations – is that the American public wants their elected representatives to “more aggressively go after cybercriminals,” according to a statement in the announcement from Ed Black, president and CEO of the trade organization: “By wide margins this survey clearly shows that ID theft has touched the majority of consumers in some way, and that hacking is more worrisome to consumers than tracking.”
It would be surprising if hacking and identity theft weren’t the number-one concern, considering the frequency and severity of data breaches against credit-card companies and online service providers.
However, it’s a stretch to assume that people who reflexively say “hackers” when asked about online threats aren’t also concerned that CCIA members track every pageview of every consumer they can reach.
They’re not tracking that information for “national security” or any other purpose that could, theoretically, benefit the consumers being spied upon; CCIA members collect that data so they can exploit customers more efficiently, with or without any benefit to the consumer.
They’re not even very careful with the information, as the long, long list of successful data breaches by cyber criminals demonstrates.
The 40 million credit cards stolen from Target during November and December – the second-largest data breach in U.S. history – didn’t happen because customers were sloppy about protecting their credit-card data. It happened because Target didn’t do enough to protect data from its point-of-sale systems after the data was already in or on its way to Target’s central data repositories.