Half of Americans Now Avoid Some Online Activities

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Fears of identity theft and data abuse are dramatically changing how Americans use the internet, a new survey finds.

Millions of Americans have stopped certain online activities due to privacy and security concerns, federal data show.

A recent analysis by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, found that 45 percent of households with at least one internet user had stopped at least one of the following online activities in the prior year:

  • Conducting financial transactions
  • Buying goods or services
  • Posting on social networks
  • Expressing opinions on controversial or political issues

Thirty percent of online households had stopped at least two of those activities in the prior year due to privacy and security concerns.

In an NTIA blog post about the findings, policy analyst Rafi Goldberg describes those activities as “important economic and civic online activities,” explaining the federal government’s interest in the matter:

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.

The NTIA’s latest analysis, released Friday, is the third in a series about the results of a survey of more than 41,000 online households collected in July 2015 by the U.S. Census Bureau.

A negative personal experience on the part of those households is “perhaps the most direct threat to maintaining consumer trust,” Goldberg writes.

The survey found that 19 percent of households surveyed — which represent 19 million Americans — had been affected by an online security breach, identity theft or similar malicious activity during the 12 months prior to the survey.

As part of the survey, households were asked what concerned them most about online privacy and security risks. The interviewers did not suggest possible answers, instead allowing respondents to cite multiple concerns or to say they had no concerns.

The most common concerns that online households cited include:

  • Identity theft — cited by 63 percent of respondents
  • 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 government — 18 percent
  • Threats to personal safety — 13 percent

Goldberg concludes:

NTIA will continue to analyze relevant data, as well as potential policies — such as encouraging the widespread deployment of strong encryption and other security measures — that could help build trust in the Internet and stimulate the free flow of information and commerce online.

For tips on better protecting yourself online, check out “5 Ways to Protect Yourself From Computer Crimes.”

Have you halted any online activities due to online privacy or security concerns? Let us know by commenting below or over on our Facebook page.

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