Who's the face of Big Brother – government or business?

What does the face of Big Brother look like?

More people say it looks like Big Business than it does government, according to a survey by the Center for a Digital Future at the University of Southern California.

The center’s 10th annual study, published June 3, found that 48 percent of Internet users 16 years old and older worry about companies following them online. Only 38 percent had the same fear about government.

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“Many of us are worried that the Big Brother in our lives is actually Big Business,” Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, said in the report’s summary.

“Internet users have major concerns about corporate intrusion – and who can blame them?” Cole said. “Considering the recent revelations about covert surveillance of personal behavior through GPS tracking and other related issues, we believe that user concerns about the involvement – some would say encroachment – of companies into the lives of Internet users represent a significant issue.”

The center’s survey of 1,926 people aged 12 and older examines more than 100 topics related to Internet use, from the percentage of Americans online to whether they trust what they read.
On the matter of trust, government websites did well, although they are slipping a bit. Seventy-nine percent of Internet users in the story said they considered information of government sites to be reliable. That’s down from 82 percent in 2009, but still ahead of how well users trust information from established media websites (75 percent).

Overall, people are circumspect about what they read on the Web, with 40 percent of Internet users saying that most or all of the information on the Web is reliable.

And although people flock to blogs and social media sites, they aren’t kidding themselves about what they find there: Only 15 percent said they considered information posted by individuals to be accurate.

As for social media, the report puts it bluntly: “A majority of Internet users have almost no faith that the information they find on social networking sites is reliable and accurate.”

Among other topics dealt with in the study, 84 percent of Internet users said they had a broadband connection. In the 10 years of the center’s studies, broadband connection have increased by more than 800 percent, the report states.

And people are staunchly opposed to government regulation of the Internet, with 61 percent saying the disagree or strongly disagree with the idea, and only 19 percent saying the government should regulate more than it does now.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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