98 percent of Americans view privacy as a basic civil right, OWI Labs survey finds

A new poll by OWI Labs has found that the overwhelming majority of Americans — 98 percent — believe that their right to privacy is a basic civil right, demonstrating just how much value they might place in their own personally identifiable information.

The results of the poll, conducted Thursday by OWI Labs in collaboration with Lucid, were collected after Alvaro M. Bedoya, former chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, penned an editorial for The New York Times arguing that privacy violations are a civil rights issue. In his view, that Congress should view breaches and lax policies from Facebook, Equifax and the like accordingly.

Bedoya said that because online tracking can vary greatly depending on a user’s race, class, or wealth, it enables marketers to discriminate. He noted that until as recently as 2017, Google and Bing searches for “I need money for groceries” or “I need money for rent” returned ads for predatory payday loans.

“The tracking of people’s race, religion, sexual orientation or health problems should be closely regulated, and in some cases banned,” Bedoya argued.

Serious discussions about an individual’s right to privacy have been a hot topic for months due to not only a number of significant data breaches, but also the start of enforcement of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. Notably, GDPR includes a number of basic privacy rights for consumers, including a right to be forgotten, a right to data portability, and a right of access to data that may have been collected.

OWI’s poll of 304 individuals from around the U.S. shows that Americans, at least conceptually, believe their privacy should be protected. The right way to go about protecting that privacy, however, remains a matter of debate.

Thus far, members of the U.S. Congress have been reluctant to regulate data privacy, largely out of fear of stifling innovation and growth for tech companies, many of which hail from America.

OWI Insight: Getting 98 percent of people to agree on anything is seemingly impossible. And yet, here in 2018, consumer awareness about data collection and online tracking continues to grow. While American culture has almost always placed an emphasis on individuality and privacy, this poll suggests belief in privacy as a fundamental right is as strong as ever. Notably, the poll did not differentiate between physical privacy and digital privacy. But at a time where virtually everything about ourselves is stored somewhere in digital form, the distinction between the analog and digital worlds is becoming increasingly irrelevant.