Results of a Harris Poll released this morning show four out of five people have changed the privacy settings of their social media accounts, and most have made changes in the last six months.
What's more, the poll, commissioned by anti-malware vendor ESET, reveals clear evidence that, contrary to what some believe, young people actually do care about the privacy of their online personas.
The ESET poll is that latest proof point of what could, at the end of the day, take hold as a tectonic societal shift: the return of privacy as a social norm. Call it the Edward Snowden effect.
Some 40% of 2,089 survey takers, aged 18 and older, said they had made changes to their privacy settings in the last three months, and 53 percent in the last six months. The poll was taken in late September.
The survey found people over the age of 45 are less likely to check social media privacy settings, with 26 percent in that age group having never made any changes to their privacy settings, while just 11 percent of respondents aged 18 to 44, said they never made privacy setting changes.
"We were impressed that almost two thirds of respondents appeared to embrace individual responsibility," says Stephen Cobb, ESET senior researcher.
Even so, the steady flow of revelations from the Snowden documents, detailing the pervasive nature of the National Security Agency's anti-terrorism surveillance activities, has kept privacy top of mind for many consumers.
Of course the NSA can tap into online data to the extent it does largely because commercial companies, led by Google and Facebook, pursue business models that treat consumer privacy as a free profit-making resource.
It took a wild card, in the form of Edward Snowden, to get the masses focused on who is doing online tracking and profiling, and for what agendas.
On Wednesday, some three dozen advocacy groups sent a letter to NSA Director Keith Alexander and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, seeking assurances that "their operations are not under surveillance by U.S. government agencies."
Signers of the letter included the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, Friends of the Earth, Communication Workers of America, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Organic Consumers Association, American Medical Student Association and Consumer Federation of America.
The letter was a reaction to the New York Times November 3 story disclosing how the NSA has collected data at the request of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The non-profits are concerned that the government is spying on organizations to further trade policies.
"The U.S. digital giants, including Google, Facebook and Yahoo, want the U.S. Trade Representative to help them become powerful commercial versions of the NSA," says Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy. "Americans must be assured that the administration won't trade away their privacy rights to help expand the information collected by the NSA and U.S. data companies."
The groups' letter asks the NSA and USTR to disclose whether any U.S. groups or individuals aiming to influence trade policy are under surveillance, regardless of whether such surveillance occurred within U.S. borders.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to consider the Electronic Privacy Information Center's challenge to the NSA telephone record collection program at conference this week. EPIC wants the high court to to overturn the court order that compelled Verizon to produce all of the telephone records of all of its customers to the NSA.
EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg maintains that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court exceeded its authority in issuing that order. EPIC's petition is supported by briefs from prominent scholars in information law, federal jurisdiction and constitutional law.
Byron Acohido, USA TODAY