Last year Apple was the 14th most trusted company in America, and Google was the 19th, according to the Ponemon Institute’s privacy report, released today. Facebook most recently made an appearance on the list in 2009, as did AOL, while Yahoo dropped off in 2010.
“There’s been a lot of media coverage about companies like Google, Facebook [and] Apple and privacy,” Ponenmon’s executive director, Susan Jayson told me this morning. “Consumers are concerned about their privacy, and this kind of media exposure, plus their personal experiences, all contribute to people getting concerned.”
That’s something the study, which reached over 7,000 Americans, made clear. Almost half, 49 percent, of respondents remembered receiving at least one data breach notification in the past year, telling them that some company had some kind of intrusion or leak that had exposed their personal data.
People’s biggest concern is identity theft: 61 percent of respondents highlighted it as the most significant privacy-related threat. It’s become such a common fear that it’s the topic of an upcoming movie: Identity Thief.
“Protection against identity theft keeps coming up in our research,” Jayson said. “People are very concerned about becoming the target of a thief … which includes medical identity theft and credit card identity theft.”
And what should be the safest places sometimes are not. Jayson’s own mother-in-law had her credit cards and other personal information stolen when checking into a Toussaint, Arizona hospital, and identity thieves indulged in a multi-thousand-dollar shopping marathon at her expense while she was sick.
Perception is the biggest problem for today’s top technology companies, Jayon says. While giants like Google provide immense value, a huge amount of personal data is tied up in your Google identity, especially when linked to your Android-based mobile phone or tablet. Similarly, Apple’s iCloud is wonderful for backing up an old phone and restoring all your contacts, data, apps, and more on a new phone, but it comes at the cost of sharing a great deal of information that gets stored at a corporate data center. And while both Google and Apple have been very good about protecting people’s information, the worry seems to remain.
Facebook, of course, might be the company that knows the most about us, and it’s continually in the public eye for confusing privacy policies, real or imagined gaffes, and a perception that the company is always trying to make more data public.
“Companies are in a bind,” Jayson says. “They don’t want to tell criminals exactly what they’re doing, but they do want to let consumers know that they’re putting in safeguards. And people do love convenience — so they use crummy passwords but still expect companies to protect them.”
Interestingly, one of the biggest privacy challenges that people identified is their own government. “People are getting concerned about government intrusion into their lives … government surveillance via drones, and agencies like the TSA and DHS,” Jayson told me.
Here are the top 20 companies in America for privacy, as rated by consumers: