50%+ of Americans Willing to Participate in Contact Tracing, but Have Major Privacy Concerns
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge and resist control, Virtru, the new standard in data protection, recently announced the results of a U.S. study conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of Virtru, regarding Americans’ attitudes toward contact tracing technology efficacy and privacy, and confidence in roles played by technology companies as well as government at all levels. With health experts emphasizing the criticality of contact tracing and the need to employ technology at scale, the study found an impressive percentage of Americans (52%) willing to share their medical records, even beyond COVID-19 test status, with government agencies and organizations to help with the pandemic response – even more so, 61% would be more willing if given control over access to their own information. However, when it comes to contact tracing apps created by states and technology providers, less than half of Americans (42%) are confident in the privacy of information captured.
Conducted during the latest surge (July 7-9) among a sample of 2,022 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, the study shows a strong willingness and unity in serving the greater good, but with reservations. Additionally, highlighting some significant generational differences, the reservations focus on the source of enabling technologies, the guidance and policies governing data collection, the ability to verify the trustworthiness of all parties with access, and even broader U.S. political efforts related to surveillance and the privacy of personal information. The high-level insights include:
Americans Have the Greater Good in Mind – More than half of Americans (52%) say they are willing to allow government agencies, task forces, or healthcare organizations access to their medical records, beyond COVID-19 test status, if it could offer responders better and more precise data for pandemic response to improve care for themselves and others. If given the ability to stop sharing and block access to individual data at any point in time, 61% of Americans would be more willing to share their medical records.
Americans Generally Trust Technology – More than half of Americans (57%) feel confident in the efficacy of contact tracing apps available from states and technology providers, with the highest trust in technology developed by healthcare groups/hospital networks (34%) and technology companies (28%). More than half of adults across all generations cite confidence in app efficacy (Gen Z ages 18-23 at 56%, Millennials ages 24-39 at 61%, Gen X ages 40-55 at 59%, and Boomers ages 56-74 at 51%).
Americans are Privacy Wary – A majority of Americans (58%) are not confident in the privacy of contact tracing apps available from states and technology providers, with those saying they are “very confident” ranging from 18% for Millennials to Boomers anchoring the low end at 6%. Just about half of Millennials (51%) cite being “confident” (somewhat or very) in privacy while fewer older adults say the same – 44% and 34% of Gen X and Boomers, respectively.
Americans Have Mixed Opinions of Federal Government Policy – With regard to the federal government setting data protection guidelines, the country is split right down the middle with 50% each feeling both more and less confident in the efficacy of contact tracing apps with those guidelines, and more than half (54%) less confident in privacy controls. This area holds the most stark generational differences with Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X who are all more likely than Boomers to feel more confident in the efficacy (53%, 59%, and 52% vs. 39%) and privacy (50%, 54%, and 48% vs. 36%) of government guidance.
Americans Have the “Surveillance State” in the Back of Their Minds – With efforts to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the introduction of the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act continuing a drumbeat of invasive surveillance and “backdoor” technology access, respondents acknowledged the conflicting privacy positions that weaken confidence. Overall, 62% of Americans cite these efforts have an impact on their willingness to share personal health data, beyond COVID-19 test status, with government agencies, task forces, or healthcare organizations for the purpose of contract tracing, with 31% citing it as a “major impact.” This was actually one area where not only were the majority of each generation in agreement, but Millennials (67%) felt more strongly than Boomers (58%).
“As we continue to battle the pandemic, and at a time when trust in each other and institutions is most critical, we’re living in a massive trust deficit,” said Virtru Co-founder and CEO John Ackerly. “While we all love the convenience and access technology has afforded us, our personal information has become an economic engine and even a weapon, and as a result, we have very little control over it. So when we’re asked to give our most sensitive health information over to someone else, it’s understandable to fear that the data may be used and shared beyond what is asked. Boomers and Gen X are jaded because they’ve been burned on privacy too many times, and Millennials and Gen Z have largely grown up in a ‘public by default,’ social media world. A time of crisis like this should be a catalyst for us to change the rules and the game, to not only re-establish personal privacy, but install mechanisms for individual verifiable trust.”
Survey Method This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Virtru from July 7-9, 2020 among 2,022 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Shannon Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Virtru At Virtru, we empower organizations to easily unlock the power of data while maintaining control, everywhere it’s stored and shared. Creators of TDF (Trusted Data Format), the open industry standard for persistent data protection, Virtru provides flexible, easy to use, and trusted privacy technologies built on its data protection platform that govern access to data throughout its full lifecycle – from creation to transmission, storage, analysis, and sharing. For more information, visit www.virtru.com or follow us on Twitter at @virtruprivacy.