Privacy concerns pushing people to change online behaviour, poll shows

By Umberto Bacchi

TBILISI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Privacy concerns are pushing people to change their behaviour online, according to an international poll published on Wednesday that found one in three avoid specific search terms or web pages to elude tracking.

More than seven in 10 respondents to a survey of almost 10,000 people in nine countries said they were worried about how tech firms collected and used their personal data.

About half said they feared their online activity could reveal intimate information about their lives, according to the survey by rights group Amnesty International, which advocates for stronger rules on data protection.

“A clear majority of people are worried about the power Big Tech has over their lives,” said Tanya O’Carroll, director of Amnesty Tech, in a statement.

The Internet Association, a trade group representing tech firms including Facebook and Google, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Once seen as engines of growth and innovation, tech giants face accusations on both sides of the Atlantic of misusing their power and failing to protect users.

Social media companies have come under increased scrutiny on data privacy issues, fuelled by last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal in which tens of millions of Facebook profiles were harvested without their users’ consent..

About half of those interviewed said they have since become more cautious about sharing online personal information such as age, gender and sexual orientation. More than 30% said they now used digital tools to limit online tracking.

The survey, conducted online in late October by British pollster YouGov in countries including Brazil, India, and the United States, did not say what terms people avoided.

Privacy groups have warned against using words that could identify users, potentially exposing them to identity theft, such as names, addresses and credit card numbers.

“People and authorities are waking up to the impact of data collection,” online privacy expert Paul-Olivier Dehaye, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.

In March, Google and Facebook said they were making changes to boost user privacy.

Leaders at both companies have said they take steps to protect user data while using it to help keep their services free or low-cost for billions of people.

Yet almost three in four respondents to the survey said governments should do more to regulate the tech sector.

“People want to see an end to tech companies trampling over our right to privacy,” said O’Carroll.

But Edin Omanovic, advocacy director at London-based group Privacy International, said new laws were not always the answer.

“In many cases the regulations are already there, the problem is they are just not enforced,” he said.

Of the nine countries surveyed, only Egypt has no specific data protection law, according to the French data watchdog, CNIL.

Germany, Denmark, Norway and France are covered by the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in 2018 and is widely considered a global benchmark for privacy regulations.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens.

EU says clock is running out on summer-winter time change

FILE PHOTO: A giant sculpture constructed with the faces of clocks is seen outside a Paris train station, March 27, 2009 on the weekend when France moves its clocks forward one hour early Sunday morning, marking daylight savings time. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union said on Friday it would propose a legal change that would end the ritual of switching between summer and winter time, leaving it up to governments across the bloc to agree on whether to permanently use summer time or winter time.

The proposal comes after a survey found 84 percent of 4.6 million citizens across the EU’s 28 member states opposed changing the clocks ahead in the summer or back in the winter or just opposed switching either way.

In response, the EU’s chief executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, said Brussels would propose scrapping an EU law requiring member states to change their clocks.

“Millions … believe that summertime should be all the time,” Juncker said on German television.

Since 1996, EU law has been moving clocks forward an hour on the last Sunday in March and back an hour on the final Sunday in October. The proposal would drop that requirement, a Commission spokesman said. He rebuffed suggestions that would lead to confusing variations in keeping time from one country to the next.

“It would be surprising if the outcome of the directive was one that doesn’t make sense for European citizens and for business,” spokesman Alexander Winterstein told a news briefing.

Spain backs the proposal to stick with just one time, government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa said on Friday. But it may have to use another time zone more in line with its western geographical position following the Commission’s proposal, Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told reporters in Vienna.

Critics of the clock change say it can cause long-term health problems, especially among young children and elderly people. Supporters say making the switch to give extra morning daylight in winter and evening light in summer can help reduce traffic accidents and save energy.

Any change would need approval from national governments and European Parliament to become law – a process that can take up to two years.

Participation in the EU’s survey varied country by country. Germans, Austrians and Luxembourgers were the most active – 3.79 percent of people in Germany took part. Elsewhere, less than 1 percent of citizens took part. Italy, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands had some of the lowest participation.

Outside the EU, a handful of European countries have stopped switching between summer and winter time, including Russia, Turkey, Belarus and Iceland.

(Reporting by Gernot Heller and Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonel in Brussels, Jesus Aguado in Madrid and Robin Emmott in Vienna; Editing by Larry King)

Majority of Americans think social media platforms censor political views: Pew survey

FILE PHOTO: A young couple look at their phone as they sit on a hillside after sun set in El Paso, Texas, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK (Reuters) – About seven out of ten Americans think social media platforms intentionally censor political viewpoints, the Pew Research Center found in a study released on Thursday.

The study comes amid an ongoing debate over the power of digital technology companies and the way they do business. Social media companies in particular, including Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, have recently come under scrutiny for failing to promptly tackle the problem of fake news as more Americans consume news on their platforms.

In the study of 4,594 U.S. adults, conducted between May 29 and June 11, roughly 72 percent of the respondents believed that social media platforms actively censored political views those companies found objectionable.

The perception that technology companies were politically biased and suppressed political speech was especially widespread among Republicans, the study showed.

About 85 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in the survey thought it was likely for social media sites to intentionally censor political viewpoints, with 54 percent saying it was “very” likely.

Sixty-four percent of Republicans also thought major technology companies as a whole supported the views of liberals over conservatives.

A majority of the respondents, or 51 percent, said technology companies should be regulated more than they are now, while only 9 percent said they should be regulated less.

(Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Americans grapple with recognizing facts in news stories: Pew survey

A couple of people ride the subway as they read newspapers as the train pulls into the Times Square stop in Manhattan, New York, U.S. February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Only a quarter of U.S. adults in a recent survey could fully identify factual statements – as opposed to opinion – in news stories, the Pew Research Center found in a study released on Monday.

The survey comes amid growing concerns about so-called fake news spread on the internet and social media. The term generally refers to fabricated news that has no basis in fact but is presented as being factually accurate.

Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and other tech companies have recently come under scrutiny for failing to promptly tackle the problem of fake news as more Americans consume news on social media platforms.

The main portion of Pew’s survey polled 5,035 adult Americans aged 18 and above in February and March. The study was intended to determine if respondents could differentiate between factual information and opinion statements in news stories.

Participants were given five factual statements such as “spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up the largest portion of the U.S. federal budget,” and five opinion statements such as “democracy is the greatest form of government.” They were asked to identify which ones were factual and which were opinions.

Only 26 percent were able to correctly identify all five factual statements. On opinions, about 35 percent were able to correctly identify all five statements. Roughly a quarter got most or all wrong in identifying facts and opinions, the research showed.

The study found that participants’ ability to classify statements as factual or opinion varied widely based on their political awareness, trust in the news media, and “digital savviness” or degree to which they are confident in using digital devices and the internet.

“There is a striking difference in certain Americans in distinguishing what are factual statements and what are not and that depends on one’s level of digital savviness, political savviness,” Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew Research Center, said in an interview.

The study also found that when Americans call a statement “factual” they overwhelmingly also think it is accurate. They tend to disagree with factual statements they incorrectly label as opinions, Pew said.

The research showed Republicans and Democrats were also more likely to think news statements are factual when the statements appeal to their side, even if the statements were opinions.

(Reporting by Angela Moon in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Most U.S. teachers spend own money on school supplies: survey

FILE PHOTO: Teachers rally outside the state Capitol on the second day of a teacher walkout to demand higher pay and more funding for education in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ninety-four percent of U.S. public school teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies without reimbursement, according to a Department of Education survey on Tuesday that follows protests by educators who are asking for more pay and funding.

Teachers in the 2014-15 school year on average spent $479 out of their own pockets on such supplies as chalk, pencils and construction paper, while about 7 percent spent more than $1,000, the report by the department’s National Center for Education Statistics said.

Spending was more common in high-poverty schools than in wealthier ones, the survey showed. Just over half of U.S. public school students are eligible for the free lunch program, which is seen as a marker for poverty.

The study follows walkouts by teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma seeking better pay, benefits and funding. After the biggest teachers’ strike in U.S. history, Arizona’s governor last week signed a budget bill that will boost pay by 20 percent.

In North Carolina, thousands of teachers are expected to rally on Wednesday in Raleigh, the state capital, to seek more school funding from lawmakers.

A 2002 law allows teachers to deduct up to $250 from their U.S. taxes for unreimbursed spending on classroom materials. Legislation introduced by Representative Anthony Brown, a Maryland Democrat, and 35 co-sponsors would double the deduction and index it to inflation.

The average U.S. teacher earned $56,383 in the 2012-13 school year, marking a 1.3 percent drop from the turn of the millennium, Education Department statistics show.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said walkouts by teachers should not be necessary to address lack of spending on public education.

“There is no other job I know of where the workers subsidize what should be a cost borne by an employer as a necessary ingredient of the job,” she said in a statement.

The Education Department said the study was based on a nationally representative sample of public schools, teachers and principals in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Diane Craft)

Afghans believe country headed in wrong direction, but optimism rising slightly: survey

People climb up a hill to watch the sunset in Kabul, Afghanistan November 16, 2015. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

KABUL (Reuters) – More than 60 percent of Afghans still believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, but signs of better governance and rebuilding has slightly lifted the national mood, according to a survey by the Asia Foundation.

Just over half of the 10,000 people surveyed said they had confidence in President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which has struggled to establish security in the face of a growing Taliban insurgency. Last year, just under half of Afghans said they had confidence in Ghani.

However, nearly 39 percent of those surveyed said they would be willing to leave if they had the opportunity, the second highest figure in the survey’s more than decade-long history.

The main reason was increased security concerns. More than 70 percent of Afghans fear for their personal safety.

Attacks are up across the country. In May, more than 150 people were killed by a blast in Kabul’s diplomatic zone – one of the deadliest since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001.

On the day the survey was released, more than 20 policemen were killed in fighting with Taliban insurgents in the southern province of Kandahar.

The survey which was conducted in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan in July, primarily in rural households, pointed to a mixed picture, with steady gains in education and health over the past decade and a half matched by continuing concern over corruption, unemployment and security.

Around a third of Afghans, or 33 percent, believe the country was heading in a positive direction, up slightly from 29.3 percent last year to buck a years-long declining trend.

“After a historic decline in 2016, confidence in public institutions has slightly improved; growing confidence in the Afghan National Security Forces stabilized in 2017,” Abdullah Ahmadzai, Asia Foundation’s country representative in Afghanistan said in a statement.

The increase in optimism applied across ethnic groups except Uzbeks, who make an important minority in Pashtun- and Tajik-dominated Afghanistan.

While there was a slight rise in positive sentiment, it was down significantly from a peak in 2013 before the withdrawal of most foreign forces. Back then nearly 60 percent of Afghans were positive about their future.

The survey comes as the United States in August announced a boost in U.S. troops to Afghanistan, which could push optimism higher in the coming months.

(Reporting by Girish Gupta; Editing by Michael Perry)

U.S. public opinion of police improving: surveys

Citizen and husky greet police officers during a riot

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Americans’ opinion of the police has bounced back from last year’s historic lows, amid continuing national debate over police treatment of minorities, two polls released this week suggested.

The polling group PRRI released a survey on Tuesday showing that a slight majority of respondents, 52 percent, believe police officers generally treat nonwhite and white Americans the same. Only 41 percent said that was the case in 2015, PRRI said.

A Gallup poll published on Monday showed 76 percent of Americans have a “great deal” of respect for their local police, up 12 points from 2015’s 22-year low.

The surveys, however, showed a significant racial gap. While both white and nonwhite respondents were more likely to express respect for police in the Gallup poll, 80 percent of white Americans did so compared with only 67 percent of minorities.

Nearly 80 percent of nonwhite respondents in the PRRI disagreed that police treat all people the same, while two-thirds of white Americans said police generally do so.

Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York who studies police-community relations, said she was surprised at the finding that public views on police had improved. The difference between white and nonwhite respondents was telling, she said.

“People may have a false sense of security about the fact that we’re having open discussions,” she said. Dialogue, while helpful, will not solve any problems without concrete policy changes, she added.

Michael Skolnik, a civil rights activist, said many people deserve credit for focusing attention on police brutality.

“At the same time, we all know there are persistent problems between the police and communities of color,” he said.

In recent years, a string of police killings of unarmed black Americans have sparked protests and calls for accountability.

Last week, the president of a major police organization apologized for law enforcement’s part in the historical mistreatment of minorities. [L1N1CN1SH]

One day later, an emotionally disturbed black woman was killed by a New York City police officer, prompting the mayor to criticize the shooting. [L1N1CP1M8]

Justin McCarthy, a Gallup analyst, wrote that the poll may reflect changes in public opinion following the killing of police officers this summer in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“It’s unclear whether the spike in respect for police will have staying power or if it reflects mostly a reaction to the retaliatory killings against police officers,” he wrote.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Fewer Americans Claim To Be Christians

A new poll from the Pew Research Center shows a decline in the number of Americans who identify themselves as Christians.

The survey showed the percentage of Americans who identify as Christians fell almost 8 percent, from 78.4% to 70.6%.

The survey showed that the decrease is because of millennials leaving the church.  Since 2007,  the number of millennials who say they are unaffiliated with any faith has increased 10 percentage points.  More than one-third of millennials say that they have no faith.

However, the number of those who say they have no faith does not mean there has been an increase in atheism; the poll showed only a ride from 1.5% to 3%.  A Pew researcher noted that many who said they have no faith were just choosing to not identify as religious.

“It’s not as if young people today are being raised in a way completely different from Christianity,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of religion research and the lead researcher on the new study. “But as adults they are simply dropping that part of their identity.”

Gregory Jones, senior strategist for leadership education at Duke University, cited a different survey that showed 70% of youth pastors have no theological education and said perhaps the problem is that students are not being engaged intellectually by leaders on issues that matter to them. Jones said it leaves the youth bored with church.

“If it is the case that millennials are less ‘atheists’ than they are ‘bored,’ then serious engagements with Christian social innovation, and with deep intellectual reflection (and these two things are connected), would offer promising signs of hope,” Jones said.