Online privacy concerns including government surveillance and companies collecting data for advertisements have consumers worried, recent surveys show. But many still won't scale back their Internet use, uncertain whether websites offer effective steps to protect their online anonymity.
Convenience seems to outweigh privacy risks for most consumers, even as companies gather information about online behavior to customize digital advertisements for users. Identity theft is the greatest worry for 75 percent of respondents in a survey published Friday by the Computer & Communications Industry Association, while 54 percent of respondents are worried companies will track their browsing history for advertising purposes. The trade association's members include Google, Facebook and Yahoo, each of which collect online behavior data for advertising purposes.
Digital privacy concerns 56 percent of daily Internet users in the U.S., Mexico, Sweden, Egypt, Pakistan and Thailand, according to a survey by Sweden-based technology company Ericcson. But only 4 percent of respondents said they would use the Internet less. Instead, 93 percent planned to protect their privacy by taking steps like being more cautious about personal information they share online.
Privacy protection steps popular among respondents to the CCIA survey included prohibiting a website from remembering a credit card, disabling Web traffic cookies on browsers, blocking mobile applications from tracking locations and adjusting privacy settings on social media websites.
Self-censorship may be the best way to protect online privacy, but cloud computing draws into doubt whether information is confidential, even if it is not shared. Facebook still can track and compile typing on a page even when the user does not publish a post, according to research published in December by Sauvik Das, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University, and by Adam Kramer, a Facebook data scientist.
People are skeptical whether the privacy options offered by websites are worth the time and effort, as consumers want simpler tools and legal protections to safeguard their information online, says Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
"If the person tracking you is offering an opt-out, it is very easy to be skeptical about how effective that opt-out will be," Calabrese says.
Younger generations appear more savvy about privacy on social media, according to a poll published in November by market research firm Harris Interactive. People 45 and older are less likely to check social media privacy settings, as 26 percent in that age group have never adjusted their settings, according to the poll. That's compared to 11 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 to 44 who have never changed their privacy settings.