Surveillance state: 60% of Americans think government tracks their data

CHICAGO — Do you ever get that nagging feeling that someone’s watching you? You talk about buying new shoes and the next thing you know, an ad for sneakers pops up on your browser. Creepy, right? This sentiment is shared among 60 percent of Americans who think the government is tracking their data, according to new research.

Digital Third Coast surveyed over 800 people across the U.S. to better understand their top concerns regarding internet privacy, analyzing more than 900 Google search terms and phrases to find the top privacy concerns in each state.

Is your cell phone listening to you?

As the world is more and more invested in social media, we are constantly glued to our phones. But, what if the information on your phone is available to eyes other than yours?

Smartphone data: Privacy and security concept
(© Production Perig –

Four in five Americans are concerned that companies can follow their internet activities via ad tracking. This includes 84 percent of Baby Boomers and Gen Z, 78 percent of Gen X and 82 percent of Millennials being concerned for their privacy.

This goes further than just companies. Sixty percent of Americans believe Uncle Sam is also listening in with three in five calling out the U.S. government for tracking their phone data.

Overall, 60 percent believe their phone is listening to them. This conspiracy is more common among iPhone users (64%) compared to Android users (56%). Some people believe their pal Alexa is eavesdropping in their home. Nearly three in four Americans believe smart home devices like Alexa or Google are listening all the time.

Boomers are the most trusting of the U.S. government, with only 40 percent believing Big Brother is tracking what they do on their phones. Younger generations, however, are not so easy to fool. Fifty-four percent of Gen X and 65 percent of Millennials think the government is listening. Gen Z is the most paranoid with 75 percent thinking the government is tuning into our phones.

How far will people go to escape this suspicion? Thirteen percent of respondents considered buying a non-smartphone to limit their internet and data presence. Gasp!

Privacy concerns by state

The study used Google search trends to identify what people are worried about privacy-wise in each state. The top ten concerns are Alexa listening, geolocation/location tracking, phones listening, targeted ads, app hacking, app tracking, going off the grid, buying a flip phone, Google spying on us, and spy apps.

Alexa was the number one concern of eight states including California, Maryland, New Jersey, and Hawaii, to name a few. Seven states searched most about going off-grid to gain more privacy. This mostly included Midwesterners.

Another big worry tied at seven states, is spy apps. What are they? Apps that monitor your information from text messages, social media and more behind-the-scenes. App tracking and targeted ads follow as top searches in five states.

The consensus among Americans from all over the country is they do not want anyone to know their whereabouts. The number one phone concern in the U.S. is geolocation.


In February 2023, we surveyed 803 Americans across the U.S. on their thoughts around targeted ads, phones, and privacy concerns. Ages ranged from 18 to 85 with an average age of 37. Respondents were 49% men, 48% women, and 3% non-binary.

To analyze Google search trends, we looked at 902 distinct keywords/phrases and their associated search volumes by state from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022.  Keywords included phrases like “is my iphone listening to me ads,” “targeted ads,” and “is alexa listening.”

Follow on Google News

About the Author

Sophia Naughton

Meet StudyFinds’ Associate Editor, Sophia Naughton. Sophia graduated Magna Cum Laude from Towson University with a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication directly focused in journalism and advertising. She is also a freelance writer for Baltimore Magazine. Outside of writing, her best buddy is her spotted Pit Bull, Terrance.

The contents of this website do not constitute advice and are provided for informational purposes only. See our full disclaimer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *