Internet companies' growing ambitions spook 51% of Americans

Internet companies' growing ambitions spook 51% of Americans

SAN FRANCISCO - The personal data gathering abilities of Google, Facebook and other tech companies has sparked growing unease among Americans, with a majority worried that Internet companies are encroaching too much upon their lives, a new poll showed.

Google and Facebook generally topped lists of Americans' concerns about the ability to track physical locations and monitor spending habits and personal communications, according to a poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos from March 11 to March 26.

The survey highlights a growing ambivalence towards Internet companies whose popular online services, such as social networking, e-commerce and search, have blossomed into some of the world's largest businesses.

Now, as the boundaries between Web products and real world services begin to blur, many of the top Internet companies are racing to put their stamp on everything from home appliances to drones and automobiles.

With billions of dollars in cash, high stock prices, and an appetite for more user data, Google, Facebook, Amazon and others are acquiring a diverse set of companies and launching ambitious technology projects.

But their grand ambitions are inciting concern, according to the poll of nearly 5,000 Americans. Of 4,781 respondents, 51 per cent replied "yes" when asked if those three companies, plus Apple, Microsoft and Twitter, were pushing too far and expanding into too many areas of people's lives.

This poll measures accuracy using a credibility interval and is accurate to plus or minus 1.6 percentage points. "It's very accurate to say that many people have love-hate relationships with some of their technology providers," said Nuala O'Connor, the President of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet public policy group which has received funding from companies including Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

"As technology moves forward, as new technologies are in use and in people's lives, they should question 'Is this a fair deal between me and the device?'"

Fears about the expanding abilities of tech companies crystallized when Google acknowledged in 2010 that its fleet of StreetView cars, which criss-cross the globe taking panoramic photos for Google's online mapping service, had inadvertently collected emails and other personal information transmitted over unencrypted home wireless networks.

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