Security often valued more than privacy among US voters
February 24, 2014

One of the reoccurring themes when discussing privacy is how the less people have, the more secure they will be in some facets of their lives. Criminals can be caught that much the easier, at least some would claim. Whether this is true is debatable, as are the various other problems associated with the lack of privacy. 

However, according to a recent poll by the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), many U.S. voters are more worried about identity theft than they are privacy issues. The survey was conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group (D) and American Viewpoint (R), and it polled 1,000 respondents about how they prioritized Internet security. While the theft of personal data and being tracked online were both prominent concerns, the overwhelming majority (87 percent) consider protecting their information to be more important than maintaining anonymity. 

"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, and that voters want the government to more aggressively go after cyber criminals," said Ed Black, CCIA President and CEO. "Safeguarding users online must become a higher priority for companies and also for the regulators and policymakers charged with protecting consumers."

Notably, part of the concern about identity theft stems from the fact that many people know someone whose email was hacked, or they received an email that appeared to be the result of a breached account. While major news such as the Edward Snowden incident may grab an audience's attention, these type of events lack the personal familiarity involved when a stranger commits fraud against friends or family. 

Privacy still a big deal
But while respondents consider identity theft the most important problem with online security, 54 percent of polled individuals also said that they're concerned with their privacy. With the majority of U.S. voters worried about how they're being tracked by organizations in the public and private sector, businesses and government services alike should consider how they can best provide online security without infringing on anyone's data. 

Moving toward a solution
In light of these findings, organizations should invest in stronger authentication methods. Their customers and members are aware of the dangers of identity theft, but they often lack the tools or knowledge to sufficiently protect themselves. The poll found that 73 percent of respondents won't save credit card information online, while 65 percent disable cookies and 53 percent prevent apps from finding their location, but these steps have their limitations. Any online transaction ultimately involves sharing credit card data, businesses should at least attempt to meet consumers partway by providing two-factor authentication options. Notably, many respondents have already signed up for this process (57 percent), so more companies should strive to offer it. Device-based verification methods could assist with this option, particularly since 83 percent of polled individuals also lock their devices with a password for added protection. 

However, the public and private sector should also strive to accommodate privacy advocates, as they are another important demographic. Those businesses that can ensure some level of anonymity to their customers without sacrificing security will stand out in the coming years, as organizations move to restrict account breaches and avoid prying into people's personal lives. While security efforts should emphasize protecting against identity theft, this is not mutually exclusive with supporting privacy issues. Both should be given equal measure to meet two important consumer concerns.