Anxiety About Web Privacy on the Rise, Survey Shows

Dennis Faas's picture

The percentage of Internet users who say they're worried about how much of their personal data is made available to third parties -- often without their permission -- is on the rise.

It's also been revealed that the vast majority of Internet users have taken some action towards removing their personal information from the web.

The figures come from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which regularly surveys the public about their use of, and attitudes towards, the Internet and related technology.

Its latest survey found that 50 per cent of respondents were worried about their personal information being available to strangers through the Internet. That's up from 33 per cent in 2009.

Those most concerned about Internet privacy were people over the age of 65. (Source:

It should be noted the results came from a survey of 1,002 people, of whom only 792 reported regularly using the Internet on a computer or smartphone. That's a little lower than many similar surveys. (Source:

Hiding Online Information Is Widespread

The survey found 86 per cent of Internet users had taken some action to limit web access to their personal data. The most common action involved clearing 'cookies' and browser history, while 41 per cent said they'd set their browsers to completely block cookies.

(Cookies are small text files created by a website. They contain details about a user and are stored on the user's computer. The site then loads this file the next time the user visits and uses the information to customize the site's content. Often cookies are used for advertising purposes.)

Other popular privacy protection techniques involve deleting or editing past online posts (done by 41 per cent of people), refusing to use a website that demanded a real name (36 per cent), and using a temporary user name and email address to register for a website (26 per cent.)

More technical measures weren't as unusual as you might expect. 14 per cent of people say they have intentionally encrypted their communications, with the same proportion having used "anonymous browsing" services to hide their online activity.

Younger Users Take Steps to Protect Personal Data

Pew's survey revealed that the younger the user, the more likely they are to have made efforts to hide their personal data. At the same time the survey found that older people tend to be more worried about online privacy.

The study also found that 66 per cent of people think existing laws don't go far enough to protect Internet users' privacy.

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