A new Pew Research Center survey released on Thursday reveals Americans increasingly view their private data as a form of digital currency: Yes, they're willing to give it up, to a point, but it depends on what they're getting in return.
The survey's results are a mixed bag; they reveal that Americans are seemingly uncomfortable with online tracking methods they're likely already willingly subjecting themselves to but are relatively comfortable allowing their most sensitive information to be made available online. For example, the majority of people Pew surveyed find ad targeting on social media unacceptable, yet nearly three-quarters of Americans have profiles on Facebook, which most certainly targets ads to its users. And a majority of respondents said they were happy to upload their sensitive health records to a website their doctor "promises" is secure just to make scheduling medical appointments easier.
So just how far are Americans willing to go in giving up their data? Views on the issue change on a case-by-case basis, with social media ranking among the highest categories of concern when it came to the potential for companies to utilize and profit from personal information provided by users.
Take a look at how some Americans and politicians feel about privacy:
(MAIN) 2016 issues: Privacy
Americans willing to give up privacy online for convenience
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29: People wait in line in a steady rain to enter the Supreme Court Tuesday morning. The court takes on the issue of privacy in digital age with cases about police searches of cellphones without warrants on April 29, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CLINTON, IA - AUGUST 16: Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds up his mobile phone while answering a question about privacy issues during a campaign event at the IAFF Local 809 Union Hall August 16, 2015 in Clinton, Iowa. Sanders was scheduled for a full day of campaigning in eastern Iowa today. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks during an interview with the Associated Press in New Orleans, Monday, May 18, 2015. Republicans clashed over the future of government surveillance programs on Monday, highlighting a deep divide among the GOP's 2016 presidential class over whether the National Security Agency should be collecting American citizens' phone records in the name of preventing terrorism. Walker three times declined to say whether he supported reauthorizing the program. He said it was "important to be able to collect information like that," as long as there were unspecified privacy safeguards. After the interview, a spokesman emailed to say that Walker supported continuing the program as it exists, with the NSA storing American phone records. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
NSA former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden talks as he participates via video link from Russia (Above) to a parliamentary hearing on the subject of 'Improving the protection of whistleblowers', held by Dutch rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt (Bottom C) on June 23, 2015, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, northeastern France. Snowden, who has been granted asylum in Russia, is being sought by Washington which has branded him a hacker and a traitor who endangered lives by revealing the extent of the NSA spying program. AFP PHOTO / FREDERICK FLORIN (Photo credit should read FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 01: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) heads back to his office after two television interviews in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. In protest of the National Security Agency's sweeping program to collect U.S. citizens' telephone metadata, Paul blocked an extension of some parts of the USA PATRIOT Act, allowing them to lapse at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The Senate will continue to work to restore the lapsed authorities by amending a House version of the bill and getting it to President Obama later this week. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks to media as he meets with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 29, 2015.Â The president said a "handful of senators" are the only thing standing in the way of an extension of key Patriot Act provisions before they expire at midnight Sunday.Â (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
In this photo taken Wednesday, July 30, 2014, Silicon Valley pioneer and Silent Circle co-founder Jon Callas holds up Blackphone with encryption apps displayed on it at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. Revelations about the NSA's electronic eavesdropping capabilities, with targets reported to include Chancellor Angela Merkel, have sparked anger in Germany, and a boom in encryption services that make it hard for the most sophisticated spies to read emails, listen to calls or comb through texts. âSnowdenâs leaks were a real boon for us,â said Callas, whose company sells an encryption app which allows users to talk and text in private. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Capitol in Washington during a rally to demand that the U.S. Congress investigate the National Security Agency's mass surveillance programs Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Protestors hold signs on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander and National Security Agency Directory Gen. Keith Alexander. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers speaks about cyber security at The New America Fondations cyber security conference at the Ronald Reagan building February 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. The day-long conference brings together experts and practitioners from various sectors to discuss a wide range of cybersecurity issues. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 17: Alli McCracken joins activists protesting the surveillance of U.S. citizens by the NSA outside the Justice Department where U.S. President Barack Obama gave a major speech on reforming the NSA January 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to announce reforms including a requirement by intelligence agencies to obtain permission from a secret court before utilizing access to telephonic data gathered on U.S. citizens. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: (L to R) Director of the National Security Agency Gen. Keith Alexander, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, and general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Robert Litt testify during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee December 11, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing on 'Continued Oversight of U.S. Government Surveillance Authorities.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, speaks during a town hall meeting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, June 12, 2015. Christie, wooing Iowans, ripped federal lawmakers who he said used their opposition to renewing the Patriot Act as a fundraising pitch. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 26: Hundreds gather for a rally and march to stop NSA surveillance and government monitoring near the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, October 26, 2013, in Washington, DC. Today is the 12th anniversary of the signing of the USA Patriot Act. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: (L - R) Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) listens as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to reporters after exiting the Senate chamber, on Capitol Hill, May 31, 2015 in Washington, DC. The National Security Agency's authority to collect bulk telephone data is set to expire June 1, unless the Senate can come to an agreement to extend the surveillance programs. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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The Pew study, which is based on a survey of 461 U.S. adults and nine online focus groups, found that only 33 percent of Americans would be willing to post their name and picture on a social site on which they'll receive targeted ads "in exchange" for free use of the service.
The finding emerged from a poll question posing a specific scenario: Your high school is using a new social platform that allows you to find out about a class reunion and reconnect with old friends, but if you participate—for free—by using your real name and a photo of yourself, the site will then use your personal info and activity to target you with ads. Fifty-one percent of respondents said that was unacceptable.
Pew says the most notable difference in views regarding this question are related to age, as about 40 percent of respondents younger than 50 called that kind of deal "acceptable" compared to only 24 percent of those older than 50. That's particularly interesting given that 71 percent of all American adults, including 31 percent of all American seniors, were on Facebook as of September 2014, according to a previous Pew survey. Granted, respondents to the class reunion site question were being asked about a social platform only for old high school classmates, which may have made it seem less compelling than a service like Facebook on which they could connect with anyone also on the service.
Another area about which Americans feel especially uneasy is surveillance that has a GPS component. Presented with a scenario in which an auto insurance provider offered a discounted rate in exchange for the installation of a device that allows monitoring of location and driving speed, nearly half of respondents said they found that exchange unacceptable.
On the other hand, a surprising number of respondents stated they would be comfortable allowing their doctors office to upload health records to what they have been promised is a secure web site. While past Pew research shows that Americans consider information about their health and the medications they take to be especially sensitive, ranking only below their Social Security number, people seemed to care more about convenience than potential data breaches. Respondents highlighted a trust in their doctors protecting privacy, with one respondent adding, "I would want a document that contained the promise and was signed by the doctor."
High-profile data breaches of sensitive healthcare-related information, like the one that affected nearly 80 million customers of Anthem Health Insurance last year, show that this mindset may not be entirely informed.
Interestingly, Americans are mostly fine with being tracked at work. Perhaps that's a result of expectations. Despite various state laws that aim to protect privacy within the workplace, work isn't your private life, after all, and being filmed while at work is simply par for the course for many employed in food, retail and security fields, among others. Over half of the respondents said they believed it was acceptable for their employer to surveil them while at work using HD security cameras that use facial recognition technology.
What happens in private, however, is a completely different story. The majority of respondents said that they would not be comfortable using a smart thermostat in their home that employs sensors to find out when people move from room to room in order to help residents save money on their energy bills. The main concern they expressed was the potential security risk of having an outside vendor know when their home was empty.
One key takeaway from the survey as a whole: Pew reports that many respondents were downcast about the future of privacy laws in the U.S. As one respondent put it, "Our life has become an open book. What are you gonna do?"