Attitudes toward exposing information to a website or another user have been moving from trust to untrust.
The average Internet user, whether using social media or connecting to businesses, educational institutions or government agencies, is concerned about privacy, especially in the light of the NSA's reported activities. Would you believe that "86% of adult Internet users have taken steps from time to time to avoid surveillance by other people or organizations when they were using the Internet?" This is a quote from a recently released study covering Internet privacy.
What makes this study important is that it shows that users don't trust most other Internet users, or the websites they access. This influences the website owners and limits their success at learning about and following those who access their sites. The less information collected about the users, the less the success of the website owner's efforts to serve that user.
The 35-page Pew Research Center study, "Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online" was posted on their site earlier this month. The Pew Research Center's Internet Project was underwritten by Carnegie Mellon University. The findings are based on data collected from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from a sample of 1,002 adults ages 18 and older.
One of the study findings is that 55% of adult Internet users specifically attempt to avoid observation by selected people, organizations, or the government. The study also encountered a pessimistic view about protection. 59% of Internet users do not believe they can be completely anonymous online. Only 37% of the respondents believe it is possible to remain anonymous online.
Internet Protection Strategies
There are many strategies that Internet users can take to improve their privacy protection. The most common choices are to:
* Clear cookies and browser history
* Delete or edit something that was posted in the past
* Set their browser to disable or turn off cookies
The other strategies are shown in the chart below.
Who to Avoid On the Internet?
As expected, users try to avoid hackers and criminals above all others. The second most common group to avoid is advertisers (see the chart below). Are you one of them? Avoiding advertisers goes directly to the bottom line for the business. As an advertiser, how do you instill trust so that users will access your site and do business with you? This in itself probably includes an advertising campaign, acceptable website processes, and privacy policies that favor the user.
It also means that the website owners should not change privacy policies to favor themselves. Once trust is reduced, it is very difficult to regain.
Who Does a Better Protection Job?
The biggest protection differences relate to the age of the user. Young adults, ages 18 to 29, are more likely than older adults to employ strategies to be hidden online, as the chart below shows. The single activity where no major difference occurred involved encrypting email. Internet users of all ages under 65 were equally likely to have encrypted e-mail content.
The 18-to-29 age group is where many businesses want to grow their customer base. The fact that this age group is best at protection does not bode well for the businesses that are courting them.
Users of the Internet want control over their personal information. It is very important to Internet users that only they or the people they authorize and trust should be allowed access, for example, to the content of their social media sites, their e-mail content, etc. Most users do not want someone else to see their e-mail contacts, the location from where they are operating, and the file contents they up- or download.
Attitudes toward exposing information to a website or another user have been moving from trust to untrust. The recent Pew study found that 50% of the respondents are concerned about Internet privacy. This is up from 35% who were worried about personal information privacy in 2009.