A survey of 1,500 American adults commissioned by consumer privacy and security company ExpressVPN explores sentiments and opinions on potential changes in the tech sector that may arrive when Joe Biden assumes the presidency of the United States on January 20, 2021.
There is growing speculation that tech regulation and data privacy will be areas of focus for the Biden administration. How might these potential policy shifts affect the average American, and are Americans in agreement with what may be on the horizon?
Americans want the Biden administration to prioritize online privacy
Among the following five key tech policy issues that the Biden administration may tackle upon taking office in January, Americans would prioritize them in this order:
- Online privacy
- Net neutrality
- Universal broadband access and the digital divide
- Section 230
“The poll results are clear: With Big Tech increasingly encroaching on our privacy and misusing or mishandling user data, Americans are placing increasing value on their online privacy and want to see legal protections that will put their digital rights and interests first,” said Harold Li, vice president, ExpressVPN.
Americans broadly support federal consumer privacy legislation
Where online privacy is concerned, Biden is expected to pursue federal consumer privacy legislation, as opposed to the many state-by-state mandates that are currently in place. This move is likely to be received positively by Americans, with nearly 90% in support.
Another concern in this area is online surveillance: 4 in 5 Americans are concerned that government agencies can collect their cell phone location data from private companies without any warrants, and there is general opposition (66%) to companies / internet service providers surveilling online activity.
Where online voting in elections is concerned, Americans are split: 53% say it’s secure to vote online, while 47% say it’s not secure. However, Democrats are more likely to trust in security of online voting than Republicans:
|Trust in security of online voting||53%||67%||40%|
Those who distrust online voting are primarily worried about hacking (81%) and fraud (76%).
Majority of Americans support net neutrality, universal access to affordable internet
The Biden administration is poised to push FCC to reinstate net neutrality. The new FCC under the Biden administration could also bridge the digital divide, ensuring all Americans, particularly those across rural America, have access to the internet.
These are issues affecting Americans on a day-to-day basis: One-third of Americans surveyed said they experience throttling by their ISP at least once a day. In addition, inadequate bandwidth and speed has been a nuisance for many during Covid-19, with remote workers (36%) and their child/ren learning from home (31%) experiencing internet speed or bandwidth issues daily.
Some have even had to make accommodations because of these issues, including: Having to use a phone (instead of the computer) to access internet (44%), leaving home to seek internet access elsewhere (32%), paying additional fees for data overages on current internet plan (19%), and even being forced to stop working / e-learning all together for a period of time (18%).
It’s no wonder that a super-majority (83%) are supportive of the Biden administration expanding access to broadband internet to every American, and a full 82% also believe that adequate and affordable internet access is a fundamental right. Overwhelmingly, 90% of Americans are also supportive of net neutrality, and 88% agree that it should be reinstated in the U.S.
Democrats are much more conscious of and supportive of broadband access in the U.S. than Republicans.
|Believe digital divide is widespread in the U.S.||79%||86%||75%|
|Feel adequate and affordable internet access is a fundamental right||82%||91%||76%|
|Supportive of the Biden administration expanding access to broadband internet to every American||82%||97%||66%|
Regulations that minimize anti-competitive practices among Big Tech are met with support
According to multiple sources, it appears that the Biden administration is in favor of increasing enforcement of antitrust laws, along with forging ahead with current lawsuits against Big Tech companies (e.g. Facebook and Google).
Only a small percentage of Americans (15%) report being very familiar with U.S. antitrust laws. However, when provided with additional information on consumer implications, along with context regarding current antitrust lawsuits, most are very supportive of cracking down on:
- Google: 71% would be willing to use an alternative search engine instead of Google, given the current litigation they are facing for monopolization and abuse of power
- Amazon: 64% would be willing to avoid purchasing Amazon-sold products in favor of small businesses for one full year. Additionally, 80% agree Amazon has an unfair market advantage and would further describe the brand as a bully (24%) or unethical (23%)
- Facebook: 77% are supportive of a potential ruling mandating Facebook to divest assets including WhatsApp and Instagram
Social media companies should be liable for monitoring third-party content
Censorship on online platforms was heightened by the recent election, with social media platforms removing and flagging an array of online content. Earlier in 2020, Joe Biden called for tech’s liability shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, to be revoked for Facebook and similar platforms.
“Section 230 has been a key part of the free and open internet, but it’s clear that many Americans have concerns about how content like misinformation and hate speech is proliferating online. It will be important for the incoming administration and Congress to look at these issues with nuance while addressing these concerns,” Li added.
63% of Americans surveyed feel that social media companies should in fact be liable for monitoring third-party (user) content. 75% of Americans think that users should also be held legally accountable for the content they post on social media platforms.
Additionally, just one-third of Americans believe that Facebook (36%) and Twitter (34%) did enough to combat misinformation during the 2020 presidential election. Though not the majority response, Republicans are more inclined to say that misinformation should not be against the law:
|Misinformation should not be against the law||18%||12%||23%|
In terms of the type of content that should be flagged, Americans are most in favor of removing: hate speech (76%), bullying (72%), excessive violence / self-harm (65%), fake news (62%), and manipulated media (50%).
So, who (or what) is supposed to catch this content? Americans believe that human monitoring (67%) is slightly more reliable at flagging and removing inappropriate or harmful content online than AI (65%).
Nearly two in five Americans (38%) have reported someone else’s content online, and one in five have had their own content removed. Democratic women have reported someone else’s online content for removal more so than counterparts and have had their own content reported the least—whereas Republican men have had their own content reported most.
|Total||Democratic Women||Democratic Men||Republican Women||Republican Men|
|Reported someone else’s content||38%||46%||42%||32%||30%|
|Had own content removed||20%||12%||25%||20%||30%|
This survey was conducted December 11–12, 2020 by ExpressVPN in collaboration with the online sampling service, Pollfish. The sample included 1,500 U.S. adults (18+).