Creepy or Not? Your Privacy Concerns Probably Reflect Your Politics

“We saw that in general Democrats have a higher concern across an array of scenarios about the use of their data,” said Mary Madden, a researcher who leads an initiative on privacy in low socioeconomic status populations at Data & Society. “Republicans are in general less concerned about those practices.”

Professor Turow said the survey responses in his new study suggested that many Republicans lacked empathy regarding surveillance practices that could disproportionately harm people of lower income.

“Democrats seem more interested or more likely to say, ‘It may not be directly affecting me, I feel safe, but I still feel angry about it,’” Professor Turow said.

In the Annenberg survey, participants were not told that certain hypothetical situations in the study could have discriminatory results.

“It would be interesting to see a version of this that compared responses if respondents knew the impact of the scenarios,” said Ms. Madden, the Data & Society researcher.

The Normalization of Tracking

There was one trend that emerged among the survey respondents, regardless of their politics.

In every situation in the study, the majority of survey participants said they felt the tracking practices were expected, not surprising. In other words, in a culture where consumers readily share their locations with Siri, their grocery lists with Alexa and their fingerprints with a federal program to speed them through airport security checks, many Americans are growing accustomed to the idea of increased monitoring.

That normalization of surveillance has privacy experts warning that pervasive tracking could escalate in ways citizens might not like.

“Over time, political and commercial forces can manipulate you and others to allow for even the most vulnerable people in society to have their data used in ways that may negatively affect them,” Professor Turow said. “These apartment house scenarios, these grocery scenarios, these police scenarios have consequences.”