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Privacy concerns hit web use

News, 16 May 2016

WASHINGTON, DC: Forty-five percent of US online households refrain from engaging in certain digital activities – like buying goods, posting on social media or expressing views on political topics – due to privacy or security concerns.

This figure represented the "most troubling" finding of a survey among more than 41,000 residences across America conducted for the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) by the US Census Bureau.

Online safety worries, the poll revealed, discouraged ecommerce and posting on social media (both cited by 26% of homes) and undertaking financial transactions (29%). Outlining a controversial viewpoint was slightly less impacted (19%).

Fully 30% of households avoided taking part in at least two of these activities, the analysis showed – a total which was indicative of broader, highly significant trends.

"It is clear that many Americans have serious concerns about privacy and security on the internet," Rafi Goldberg, Policy Analyst, Office of Policy Analysis and Development/NTIA, argued in a blog post.

"Privacy and security concerns deterred each of these important activities in millions of households, and this chill on discourse and economic activity was even more common among online households that either had experienced an online security breach or expressed two or more major concerns about privacy and security risks."

The likelihood of respondents eschewing a specific digital task was much greater if they associated it with a particular type of threat.

Where identify theft was raised as a source of worry, for instance, some 35% of interviewees avoided conducting online financial transactions, versus 18% of other households.

As further evidence, precisely 33% of households that were uneasy about credit card or banking fraud opted against buying products on the web, compared with 21% of people who did not share their anxiety.

Elsewhere, worries pertaining to government data collection caused 29% of households to shy away from airing controversial or political opinions through digital channels, falling to 16% of other online households.

Such statistics, Goldberg suggested, make it "clear that policy-makers need to develop a better understanding of mistrust in the privacy and security of the internet and the resulting chilling effects."

Data sourced from National Telecommunications & Information Administration; additional content by Warc staff