According to a recent study by Pew Research, 86% of internet users have taken steps to preserve their online privacy. These steps range from using incognito mode for sensitive browsing (which has a minimal effect on one's "online footprint") to using the privacy-conscious but inconvenient Tor browser. According to that same study, Americans demonstrate a consistent 'lack of confidence' in the security of their communications—digital or otherwise—and 74% say that they strongly care about what data is available about them to companies. Americans are also aware of the increasing threats to their privacy (91% say that they have lost control over how their personal information is used by companies).

This growing awareness for privacy shouldn't come as a surprise, however. The public interest in privacy is only increasing because our privacy itself is decreasing.

And the public isn't necessarily pro-privacy, either. 46% of those who participated in the study said that they were 'not concerned' about the state of government surveillance (keep in mind that this was shortly after the Snowden leaks), and a strong generational divide exists as well—young adults were much more likely to care about government surveillance than their elders.

That said, privacy is still popular among Americans, and media attention has followed this: privacy is now in vogue. Nearly every day there are stories published about new surveillance technologies, recently-leaked government programs, and cybersecurity breaches. The term 'privacy' has maintained steady popularity on Google Search, and a slurry of new products designed for the privacy-conscious has bombarded the market. If one is to consult the Pew study, it would seem that there is a massive market for such products (many of which are free). But the actual adoption rates are underwhelming.


Signal, a messaging app by Open Whisper Systems, is a popular solution for secure communications. It's used by the everyone from Edward Snowden to the State Department, and provides end-to-end encrypted calling and messaging (plus it's open source, so the code is peer reviewed). Despite its popularity among the privacy-conscious, it's been extremely slow to catch on. While Open Whisper Systems (the app's creator) doesn't disclose how many people use Signal (and the Apple App Store doesn't share this information either), the Google Play Store states that it has been downloaded on its platform between 1 million and 5 million times. Let's say that 65% of those who downloaded the app use it frequently (a liberal estimate), and that it has been downloaded 8 million times on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store combined (an even more generous estimate). That would mean that roughly 5 million people use Signal around the world. That's roughly 0.05% as popular as Facebook's WhatsApp.

For an app that's been featured multiple times in major newspapers (such as The New York Times and The Guardian), its adoption rate is embarrassingly low. Exposure cannot be to blame—rather, will is.


How can a nation in which 86% of internet users take steps to protect their online privacy—roughly 220 million people—be so slow to adopt technologies that facilitate their pursuit?

The answer, put bluntly, is that they don't care.