Report Shows That Data Leaks And Spying Concern Americans Enough To Deter Internet Use

The rise of the Internet has forever changed the way we go about our daily lives and made certain things more convenient, but the more online services a person uses, the higher the potential privacy cost. That's been a rising deterrent for Americans, many of which now avoid certain online activities over concerns about privacy and security, according to a recent study by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration.

NTIA combed over survey data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, which included answers to several privacy and security questions by more than 41,000 households with at least one Internet user in the home. Nearly half (45 percent) of the respondents said they avoided at least one of the activities mentioned in the survey and nearly a third (30 percent) refrained from at least two. Are they being paranoid? It doesn't appear so.


"Perhaps the most direct threat to maintaining consumer trust is negative personal experience. Nineteen percent of Internet-using households—representing nearly 19 million households—reported that they had been affected by an online security breach, identity theft, or similar malicious activity during the 12 months prior to the July 2015 survey," NTIA said.

As you might expect, households with several Internet-connected devices were more likely to report having been the victim of a security breach. In homes with just one Internet device, be it a PC or smartphone or whatever, 9 percent had experienced a security breach, versus 31 percent for households with five or more devices.

Regardless of past history, concerns over security and privacy impact what services households are willing to conduct online. Out of all the households surveyed, 29 percent avoid online banking for fear their data will be stolen. Nearly as many (26 percent) also avoid buying goods or services online, and the same goes for posting on social networks.
Privacy And Security Concern Graph
Credit: NTIA

The overwhelming fear is that of identify theft, with 63 percent of respondents indicating it as a concern. That was followed by credit card or banking fraud (45 percent), data collection by online services (23 percent), loss of control over personal data (22 percent), data collection by the government (18 percent), and threats to personal safety (13 percent).

"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," NTIA said. "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."

So what can be done to ease fears and get more Americans using online services? NTIA believes the key is widespread deployment of strong encryption along and other security measures. And it's probably right, though convincing the government that encryption is good for consumers is another topic entirely.