Privacy & Security Concern “Chilling” Internet Users
Nearly 1 in 2 Internet users say privacy and security concerns have stopped them from doing some basic things online such as posting to social networks, expressing opinions in forums or even buying things from websites, according to a new government survey released last Friday.
This chilling effect, pulled out of a survey of 41,000 US households who use the Internet, show the insecurity of the World Wide Web is beginning to have consequences beyond the direct fallout of an individual losing personal data in breach.
The research suggests some consumers are reaching a point where they feel they can no longer trust using the Internet for some everyday activities.
“Every day, billions of people around the world use the Internet to share ideas, conduct financial transactions, and keep in touch with family, friends, and colleagues,” wrote a policy analyst at the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, in a blog post introducing the data. “But for the Internet to grow and thrive, users must continue to trust that their personal information will be secure and their privacy protected.”
The survey showed that nearly 20% of the survey’s respondents had personally experienced some form of identity theft, an online security breach, or another similar problem over the year before the survey was taken last July. Overall, 45% said their concerns about online privacy and security stopped them from using the Internet in practical ways.
When asked to list their biggest concerns, nearly 66% of the respondents cited identity theft, while nearly half brought up credit card or banking fraud. About one in five listed data collection by the government.
The NTIA survey also showed that the more connected devices people owned, the more they experienced a breach of data. For those with 1 laptop or computer or smartphone, 9% reported a security incident. That number more than 3X’d for those with at least 5 devices.
Other surveys have shown that privacy concerns have become more common.
A Pew Research study last year found that people overwhelmingly want to control their digital data, but had little confidence that information could stay protected.
Pew Research also found that a significant number of Americans tried a number of different ways to protect their privacy online. Almost 60% said they had cleared their cookies or browser history, and nearly 1 in 3 said they had deleted or edited something they previously posted online.
But very few said they had considered using more advanced methods to protect their privacy, such as encrypting their emails.
Other Pew research has shown that the majority of Americans find it difficult to figure out the right tools and strategies to meaningfully enhance their privacy.
The new NTIA data suggests a significant number of Americans have embraced at least 1 Internet safety strategy: Opting out of online activities.
That trend could have major consequences for banks, online retailers, and the broader Internet economy.
“NTIA’s initial analysis only scratches the surface of this important area, but it is clear that policymakers need to develop a better understanding of mistrust in the privacy and security of the Internet and the resulting chilling effects,” the NTIA analyst wrote. “In addition to being a problem of great concern to many Americans, privacy and security issues may reduce economic activity and hamper the free exchange of ideas online.”
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