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Survey: Majority of Americans Willing to Share Their Most Sensitive Personal Data

by Daniel Castro

Most Americans (58 percent) are willing to allow third parties to collect at least some sensitive personal data, according to a new survey from the Center for Data Innovation.

While many surveys measure public opinions on privacy, few ask consumers about their willingness to make tradeoffs, such as sharing certain personal information in exchange for services or benefits they want. In this survey, the Center asked respondents whether they would allow a mobile app to collect their biometrics or location data for purposes such as making it easier to sign into an account or getting free navigational help, and it asked whether they would allow medical researchers to collect sensitive data about their health if it would lead to medical cures for their families or others. Only one-third of respondents (33 percent) were unwilling to let mobile apps collect either their biometrics or location data under any of the described scenarios. And overall, nearly 6 in 10 respondents (58 percent) were willing to let a third party collect at least one piece of sensitive personal data, such as biometric, location, or medical data, in exchange for a service or benefit.

Table 1: Percentage of respondents who would agree to let a third party collect their data under at least one scenario.

The survey found that 70 percent of Americans would not allow a mobile app to collect their biometric data when potential tradeoffs were not part of the question. But opposition dropped by 6.7 percentage points when respondents were asked whether they would allow mobile apps to collect biometric data if it would make it easier to sign in to their account and by 19.6 percentage points if it would make their account more secure against hackers.

Table 2: Percentage point difference in U.S. Internet users’ level of support for a mobile app collecting their biometric data when presented with possible tradeoffs.

The survey found that approximately 59 percent of Americans would not allow a mobile app to collection their location data when potential tradeoffs were not part of the question. Opposition dropped by 2 percentage points when the tradeoff was getting discounts at nearby stores and restaurants, and by 9.2 percentage points when the tradeoff was getting free traffic and navigational information.

Table 3: Percentage point difference in U.S. Internet users’ level of support for a mobile app collecting their location data when presented with possible tradeoffs.

The survey found that approximately 61 percent of Americans would not allow medical researchers to collect sensitive data about their health when potential tradeoffs were not part of the question. But opposition dropped by 17.6 percentage points if allowing medical researchers to collect sensitive health data could lead to new cures or treatments for respondents’ families or others.

Table 4: Percentage point difference in U.S. Internet users’ level of support for medical researchers collecting sensitive data about their health when presented with possible tradeoffs.

Sentiment varied by age, with older respondents expressing more resistance to sharing their biometric, location, and medical data. For example, 50 percent of respondents aged 55 and older would not allow medical researchers to collect sensitive data about their health if it could lead to new cures or treatments for themselves or their families, compared to 38 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds.

The survey also found that slightly more than one-quarter of respondents (28 percent) agreed that people who donate their medical data to researchers working on new cures and treatments should pay less for health care than people who do not.

Survey Questions

Survey Questions

1. Agree or disagree? I would allow a mobile app to collect my biometric data, such as a fingerprint or face scan.

  • Strongly agree: 5.4 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 9.2 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 15.4 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 12.2 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 57.8 percent

2. Agree or disagree? I would allow a mobile app to collect my biometric data, such as a fingerprint or face scan, if it would make it easier for me to sign in to my account.

  • Strongly agree: 7.0 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 16.3 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 13.4 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 12.0 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 51.3 percent

3. Agree or disagree? I would allow a mobile app to collect my biometric data, such as a fingerprint or face scan, if it would make my account more secure against hackers.

  • Strongly agree: 12.8 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 21.6 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 15.2 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 10.6 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 39.8 percent

4. Agree or disagree? I would allow a mobile app to collect data about my physical location.

  • Strongly agree: 4.4 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 17.4 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 19.5 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 15.8 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 42.9 percent

5. Agree or disagree? I would allow a mobile app to collect data about my physical location if it gets me discounts at nearby stores and restaurants.

  • Strongly agree: 5.7 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 18.7 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 18.8 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 15.1 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 41.6 percent

6. Agree or disagree? I would allow a mobile app to collect data about my physical location if it gets me free traffic and navigational information.

  • Strongly agree: 9.6 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 22.1 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 18.8 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 11.0 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 38.5 percent

7. Agree or disagree? I would allow medical researchers to collect sensitive data about my health.

  • Strongly agree: 5.4 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 14.1 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 19.1 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 13.7 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 47.7 percent

8. Agree or disagree? I would allow medical researchers to collect sensitive data about my health if it could lead to new cures or treatments for me or my family.

  • Strongly agree: 13.2 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 23.0 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 20.0 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 9.9 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 33.9 percent

9. Agree or disagree? I would allow medical researchers to collect sensitive data about my health if it could lead to new cures or treatments for others.

  • Strongly agree: 12.9 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 22.9 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 20.3 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 10.1 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 33.8 percent

10. Agree or disagree? People who donate their medical data to researchers working on new cures and treatments should pay less for health care than people who do not.

  • Strongly agree: 9.2 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 18.4 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 27.9 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 10.3 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 34.2 percent

Age:

  • 4.1% 18-24, 14.0% 25-34, 19.8% 35-44, 22.6% 45-54, 22.1% 55-64, 17.3% 65+ in sample
  • 12.6% 18-24, 19.4% 25-34, 17.5% 35-44, 17.6% 45-54, 16.7% 55-64, 16.2% 65+ in target population

Gender:

  • 55.8% male. 44.2 percent female in sample
  • 48.1% male, 51.9% female in target population

Region:

  • 16.0% Northeast, 36.0% South, 26.5% Midwest, 21.6% West in sample
  • 17.3% Northeast, 37.5% South, 21.3% Midwest, 23.9% West in target

Detailed Survey Results

Download additional detail about the survey results.

Survey Methodology

The Center for Data Innovation conducted a national online poll of 3,221 U.S. adult Internet users between December 19, 2018 and December 22, 2018. Using Google Surveys, we applied weights to each response to match the breakdowns of age, gender, and region to those demographic breakdowns in the national Internet population as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 Current Population Survey (CPS) Computer and Internet Use Supplement.

Multiple analyses have found Google Surveys to be a useful survey tool. In 2012, the Pew Research Center compared the results for 43 questions it asked through telephone surveys and Google Surveys, finding that the median difference between the two methods’ results was three percentage points. Moreover, Google Surveys accurately predicted the 2012 presidential election. Lastly, a 2016 analysis, published in the peer-reviewed journal Political Analysis by Rice University political scientists, replicated four canonical social science experiments with Google Surveys and concluded that Google Surveys “is likely to be a useful platform for survey experimenters doing rigorous social scientific work.”

Google Surveys donated the use of its platform for this research but played no role in the findings or in developing the questions. To learn more about Google Surveys’ methodology and accuracy, please see the Google Surveys Whitepaper and a study comparing Google Surveys to other Internet surveys.

About the Center for Data Innovation

The Center for Data Innovation conducts high-quality, independent research and educational activities on the impact of the increased use of information on the economy and society. In addition, the Center for Data Innovation formulates and promotes pragmatic public policies designed to enable data-driven innovation in the public and private sector, create new economic opportunities, and improve quality of life. The Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute affiliated with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

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