Americans dubious about free speech online

Americans are far more concerned about companies monitoring their internet activity than about government doing the same thing.

Indeed, many think criticizing the government online should be outlawed.

The annual Digital Future study from the Center for the Digital Future found that almost half of over-16s are worried about companies checking what they do online. Only 38 percent worry about the government.

“Many of us are worried that the Big Brother in our lives is actually Big Business. Internet users have major concerns about corporate intrusion – and who can blame them?” says Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future.

“Considering the recent revelations about covert surveillance of personal behavior through GPS tracking and other related issues, we believe that user concerns about the involvement – some would say encroachment – of companies into the lives of Internet users represent a significant issue.”

There was distinct concern, though, about expressing one’s political opinions online, with only a third of people thinking it was safe to do so and over a third thinking it definitely wasn’t.

Indeed, many people think it shouldn’t be safe – just 55 percent said people should be able to express their ideas on the internet, even if those ideas are extreme.

And, astonishingly, only 70 percent of Americans believe that people should be free to criticize their government while online. It’s hard to square that with such strong national support for intervention in the Middle East, in the name of free speech and open democracy.

The full study is here.