11 percent of Americans think HTML is an STD

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

March 7, 2014

Most of you reading an article on a VPN website are no doubt;

  1. At least somewhat computer literate, and
  2. Care about online security

Hearing about a new report by coupons website aimed at finding out how knowledgeable the average US computer user is about tech terms must therefore come as something of a face-palm moment (it was for us!).


The study was conducted by email over a period seven days, and questioned 2,392 men and women over the age of 18, who were not informed that the study was interested in their knowledge of tech terms, and who were presented with both tech-term and non-tech term related questions. Each question had three possible answers.

In addition to the 11 percent who thought that HTML was a form of sexually transmitted disease:

  • 27 percent thought a Gigabyte was ‘an insect commonly found in South America’ (rather than a unit of measurement for electronic data)
  • 77 percent did not know what  SEO stands for  (Search Engine Optimization)
  • 42 percent thought a motherboard was ‘the deck of a cruise ship’ (it is the component main board to which everything else is attached in a computer)
  • 23 percent thought an MP3 was ‘a Star Wars Robot’ (it is an audio format usually used for music)
  • 18 percent thought  Blue-Ray was a ‘marine animal’ (it is a high-capacity DVD type disk, often used for storing high definition movies)
  • 15 percent thought software was ‘comfortable clothing’ (rather than computer programs)
  • 12 percent misidentified USB  as an ‘acronym for a European country’ (it is a type of computer peripheral connector)

In something of a punch line, 61 percent of respondents went on say that ‘it is important to have good knowledge of technology in this day and age.’

These admittedly hilarious finding have been called into question by MediaEthics (a journalism ethics website), but the company which conducted the survey on’s behalf, 10 Yetis Public Relations,  have defended their results, saying they are ‘100% genuine, and it’s a valid survey’, and backing up this claim by  publishing the results in full.

Now, even approaching this survey with tongue firmly in cheek, it does highlight a fundamental problem for those of us concerned with online privacy and internet security. It is all very well for us to go around telling everyone to use VPN and encrypt everything religiously, but since much of the population (and we are sure the point applies everywhere, not just to the US) needs help accessing their Gmail account, we could well just be whistling in the wind.

Which is not to say, of course, that we should not try. If we really care about privacy then we should not just take measures to protect ourselves, but should help others to understand the technology they use, make them care about privacy, and teach them ways to improve it. It is only by such co-ordinated mass  measures that the likes of the NSA can be meaningfully resisted. As prominent security expert Bruce Schneier argues, to foil the NSA everyone should ‘encrypt everything!’, but before this can happen people will need to learn the basics of using a computer.

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