Tech companies are forcing users into ‘ultimatum’ on privacy, ProtonMail says as poll shows disregard for data

Exclusive: Risk of data being exploited was a concern for nine in ten people, research from ProtonMail shows

Adam Smith
Friday 03 December 2021 14:00

An astonishing one out of every five people in Britain take no steps to protect their personal data, despite it being one of their highest concerns.

Misleading marketing campaigns, unreadable terms and conditions contracts, and similar issues have led to customers being unaware about exactly what personal digital information about them is being collected, according to YouGov polling conducted by Proton, shared exclusively with The Independent.

Consumers’ concerns include email scanning, with 90 per cent of people saying they do not want companies to engage in the behaviour, contact scanning (87 per cent), and location tracking (79 per cent).

Financial statements being left unprotected was the most common concern for users (80 per cent) followed by personal conversations through services like Meta’s (formerly Facebook) WhatsApp or Apple’s iMessage.

The least concerning were online purchases, and device IP address. Only three per cent said they did not care about keeping their personal data private.

The risk of this data being exploited was a worrying matter for 90 per cent of those surveyed, but this feeling appears to change with age.

People aged 18 to 24 are three times as likely to feel apathetic towards companies exploiting their personal data compared to those over 55 – with the suggestion being that the younger generation, having very little experience of a time before the internet, are more accustomed to the data practises of large technology giants.

Those that do take steps to protect their personal information online usually decline marketing cookies, use two-factor authentication for social media and email accounts, use an ad-blocking tool and their browser’s built-in private mode, which do not save browsing history, passwords, and cookies.

Historically, these steps have not been easy. Marketing cookies on some websites can be significantly challenging, and time consuming, to disable and others may decline users entirely if they cannot track them online.

The least used tools are mostly those that rely on specialist software: privacy-focused search engines such as DuckDuckGo, browsers like Brave, and email clients – such as ProtonMail, which is provided by Proton.

“Privacy has become a priority for consumers. As it stands, the market is dominated by companies who routinely monetize privacy and users are left with an ultimatum: give up your privacy or disconnect from the modern world. But things are changing”, said ProtonMail chief executive Andy Yen.

“In the last 12 months, hundreds of millions of people around the world have signed up to services where privacy is the default. The message to Big Tech is clear. Respect your users’ privacy, or they will move to someone that will.”

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