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A recent report by the Annenberg School for Communication studied people's perceived data security on different platforms. Credit: Andrea Barajas

A recent Annenberg School for Communication report showed that Americans significantly overestimate the role of government in protecting online data.

The study entitled "Americans Can’t Consent to Companies’ Use of Their Data" was led by Joseph Turow, Robert Lewis Shayon Professor of Media Systems & Industries at the Annenberg School for Communication. The report gauged people's perceived data security on different platforms, such as websites, social media, doorbell cameras, and smart TVs. 

Researchers posed 17 true or false statements regarding consumer data security to a sample of over 2,000 adult participants. 77% of participants failed the test, accurately assessing less than 10 statements. While one participant received an “A” grade, none correctly evaluated every statement.  

The study demonstrated that many participants did not have a complete understanding of U.S. federal regulations for data protection. Only 24% of study respondents knew that the federal government plays no role in regulating the user data collected by enterprises.

“These dark patterns are implicit, unrecognizable ways to push users to give up data," Turow told The Daily Pennsylvanian. 

Moreover, Turow said that unassuming “learn more” tabs often disguise the extensive data collection information companies seek to hide from users. 

Turow told the DP that non-consensual data collection has particular implications for Gen Z, which is the first generation to have never lived without memories of the commercial web. 

Despite Gen Z’s higher familiarity with the internet, Turow said they still have misunderstandings regarding the pervasiveness of data surveillance. 

“When students come to Penn, they have almost no understanding of what happens behind the screen," Turow told the DP. 

Under current Federal Trade Commission guidelines, “commercial surveillance” only requires users’ “notice and consent.” Though companies must make their practices apparent, they often present consent forms in ways that are difficult to recognize or read, according to The New York Times.  

The study highlighted the shortcomings of the “notice and consent” requirement because explicit consent requires people to understand the full implications of commercial data extraction. 

"Genuine opt-out and opt-in consent requires that people have knowledge about commercial data-extraction practices as well as a belief they can do something about them. … Americans have neither," the report said