We’ve all seen them – those Google ads that seem to follow us wherever we go, or targeted ads on Facebook or Instagram that feel absolutely “on brand” for our interests. These ads are designed to maximize the likelihood of customers purchasing or engaging with whatever the ad is peddling: but some find them a little too accurate for their taste. Is their phone listening to them? How else could it know?
While phone companies are taking steps to ensure better privacy, security concerns are still on the minds of Americans nationwide. Digital Third Coast surveyed over 800 people across the U.S. to better understand their top concerns regarding internet privacy, and analyzed more than 900 Google search terms and phrases on this top to find the top privacy worries in each state.
While phones are omnipresent in our lives, that doesn’t mean they can’t be stressful: 4 in 5 Americans are concerned that companies can follow their internet activities via ad tracking. Broken down by generation, Baby Boomers and Gen Z are most concerned with 84% of them saying so respectively, while the middle generations seem less bothered: only 78% of Gen X and 82% of Millennials are concerned.
This concern translates to a degree of paranoia: 60% believe their phone is listening to them. iPhone users tend to buy into this theory a bit more than Android users, with 64% of iPhone users believing their phone is eavesdropping compared to 56% of Android users.
Another source for paranoia? Alexa. Nearly 3 in 4 Americans believe smart home devices like Alexa are listening all the time.
It’s not just smart home devices: apparently to 60% of Americans, Uncle Sam is also listening in as 3 in 5 believe the U.S. government is tracking their phone data. The generations split fairly widely on this topic: Boomers are the most trusting of the U.S. government, with only 40% believing the government is tracking their phone data. The younger, the more paranoid: 54% of Gen X and 65% of Millennials think the government is listening, while Gen Z brings up the paranoid rear with a whopping 75% believing the government is tracking their phone data.
For some, this is too much to handle: 13% of Americans have considered buying a non-smartphone (remember those?) to limit their internet and data presence.
All of this paranoia is likely caused by savvy advertising on the part of brands: well-targeted ads are intended to align as closely with the interests of the target audience as possible, and many of those “creepy” phone ads are the result of good work by brands and agencies. Between location-based ads that seem to know exactly where you are (thanks, IP addresses!) and ads that are targeted based on interests, it’s understandable Americans might feel creeped out: but it’s simply a side effect of the digital trails we all leave as we browse the web.
Across the U.S., there are 10 main concerns people are searching about the most: Alexa listening, geolocation/location tracking, phones listening, targeted ads, app hacking, app tracking, going off the grid, buying a flip phone, Google spying on us, and spy apps.
Alexa was the top concern of 8 states (California, Maryland, and Massachusetts, to name a few) while going off the grid wasn’t far behind at 7 states. There must be something about the Midwest: Nebraska, Michigan, and Minnesota all want to go off the grid. For 7 states, a top concern is spy apps, while 5 states are concerned about app tracking and 5 have concerns about targeted ads.
We also questioned what Americans were most concerned about nationwide, so we analyzed over 900 Google search trends around phone privacy and targeted ads. Regarding the top national phone privacy concerns, it seems Americans don’t want anyone to know their location. Coming in at #1 is geolocation (tracing location via phone data). After that, is going off grid, targeted ads, app hacking, and spy apps to round out the top five.
All in all, privacy and data protection are very important to Americans, and the quest continues for brands looking to reach their customers in new and innovative ways. They just might have a little difficulty finding customers who have already gone off-grid – see you in the woods!
In February 2023, we surveyed 803 Americans across the U.S. on their thoughts around targeted ads, phones, and privacy concerns. Ages ranged from 18 to 85 with an average age of 37. Respondents were 49% men, 48% women, and 3% non-binary.
To analyze Google search trends, we looked at 902 distinct keywords/phrases and their associated search volumes by state from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022. Keywords included phrases like “is my iphone listening to me ads,” “targeted ads,” and “is alexa listening.”
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