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Massachusetts Residents Are Confused on Privacy

Massachusetts residents are deeply concerned over privacy and the control of their personal data—but also often believe they’re generally safe.

A survey of 450 Massachusetts residents 18 years or older by the Advanced Cyber Security Center (ACSC) found that a full 89% of Massachusetts residents reported that keeping their personal information private is a concern, with a majority (53%) saying it is a major concern. Yet, despite the reported widespread impact of the Equifax breach, 49% of Bay State residents said they did not believe they were affected by it, with another 30% not sure. Only 22% reported they were impacted.

This comes as online activity is nearly ubiquitous, and as nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believe the internet has more benefits than threats to privacy, up from 56% in 2000 as internet usage has become part of daily life. More than 90% report they have made an internet purchase in the last six months. Close to 80% now support the advantages of computerized medical records as worth the tradeoff in privacy risks, while fewer than 50% thought they should be encouraged in 2000.

Nonetheless, close to 50% reported that they have taken no steps to protect their personal credit information, having never enrolled in a credit monitoring program or put a freeze on credit reports.

The survey also showed that most appear to lack a basic foundation of knowledge about how their data is being used and what tools are available to them to protect it. Interestingly, residents generally are far more comfortable with firms using their data to market to them more effectively than they are with finance firms sharing or selling their credit data.  Credit data sharing raises almost as much concern as the risks of unauthorized use of medical records. 

Further underscoring a level of public confusion about privacy, 48% of residents said giving consumers the choice to opt-out of sharing data is better for consumers, and 52% believe opt-in is better.

“Massachusetts consumers believe that they have control over their data, but don’t know what these controls are and when these are available, they aren’t using them,” said Michael Figueroa, executive director of the ACSC. “People clearly are calling for solutions to make them more secure and protect their data privacy, and it’s time for the public and private sectors to work together to respond to this challenge.”

As to the “public” part of that equation, the overwhelming majority of survey respondents (92%) believe the federal government should set tougher standards for technology and data companies to protect the personal data of consumers.

The survey also uncovered that most would hold breached organizations accountable: Close to 68% of respondents say they would be not likely to continue to do business with an organization that suffers a security breach and releases personal data (48% are “not very likely” and 20% are “not likely at all”). About a third (29%) of residents are “somewhat likely” to continue doing business with an organization after a breach of this kind.

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