Nearly half of students responding to an informal survey at the Michigan State University Union said they have begun using encrypted messaging applications as a result of the increased awareness of online tracking and monitoring from advertisers, business and the government.
The survey included 200 students. The majority of students, 111, said they didn’t use any of the encrypted messaging applications listed on the response sheet, which included WhatsApp, Signal, Wickr and ChatSecure.
Each of these applications offer a way for consumers to keep their messages encrypted and safe from any sort of surveillance or tracking from businesses or the government. Messages are deleted from servers as soon as they are received, making it impossible to be tracked.
The use of encrypted messaging applications has become more popular in the U.S. following revelations about the government’s warrantless spying programs in 2013 and the online tracking practices of advertisers and businesses.
“The general populace is certainly becoming more aware of how their online interactions can be monitored,” said Irina Raicu, internet ethics program director at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. “This has forced people to begin using encrypted applications on a broader scale.”
While the reasons varied from extra protection from government surveillance to protection from possible employers, it seems encrypted messaging applications aren’t reserved for the likes of Edward Snowden.
Out of the 200 students surveyed, WhatsApp was the most used application, even though half of the students who said they use the application also said they didn’t know it offered encrypted messaging.
The messaging application Signal was the second most-used out of the 200 person survey.
Finance senior Collin Hanson said he began using Signal after he learned about the way the government can obtain data from other messaging applications.
“I don’t consider myself paranoid,” he said. “I just don’t want all my messages saved somewhere.”
While the size of this specific survey cannot be defined as scientific, a 2014 Pew Research Study found 10 percent of adults have encrypted their phone calls, text messages or emails, while 69 percent of adults in that survey said they are not confident “records of their activity maintained by the social media sites they use will remain private and secure.”
Raicu said this increased use of encrypted applications is not limited to young people, but said it’s obvious why young people would be quicker to move to use them.
“As young people, you know about these applications and how to implement them,” she said. “People in older generations are less inclined and often less knowledgeable about how to use encryption.”
This shift in public opinion towards internet privacy is what prompted International Studies senior Luke Garcy to start using ChatSecure to email and chat with friends.
“I think when you talk about these kinds of apps you sort of get odd looks,” he said. “But it gives me a bit of protection and that helps give me a better sense of security when I’m talking about controversial things online.”