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Survey finds that most internet users want to be anonymous online

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

September 13, 2013

86% of internet users have taken steps to remove or mask their digital footprint when online, according to a new survey performed by the Pew Research Center and underwritten by Carnegie Mellon University.

survey 1

The measure taken to try to improve online privacy range from clearing cookies to avoiding websites that ask for a real name. However, only 14% of respondents used a service that allowed them to surf the web anonymously (such as VPN or Tor) or encrypted their communications.

survey 2

Many of the survey’s other results are quite interesting, including that young adults are more likely to take steps to hide from others when online than older age groups, but even in the 18-29 age group only 11% do so because they download copyrighted material. Those who are aged 30-49 however are more concerned with controlling access to their personal information.

What this survey makes very clear however is that most people are extremely concerned about their online privacy, although the majority lack the technical expertise to put effective privacy protection measures in place (as noted, only 14% used services such as VPN, or encrypted their emails).

Instead, most people resort to low-tech solutions such as avoiding certain websites, and using false identities when online. Although these measures can be quite effective at hiding ones identity from other general internet users, they are fairly ineffective against advertisers, hackers, and government spying agencies who can easily trace an individual’s online activities through their IP address.

Interesting is the high level of awareness about browser cookies, which demonstrate that if a technical problem is given a high enough profile in the media (such as in computer magazines) then people will pay attention. Now all we need to do is convince people to encrypt everything and use VPN religiously!

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