September 5, 2013, 12:42 PM

Most Internet users take steps to protect their online privacy

That includes 41% who disable tracking cookies, a Pew survey finds.

Lead Photo

As e-commerce continues to grow, so do consumer worries about how much of their personal data resides on the web, a new Pew Research Center study finds. In response, many of those consumers are obscuring their online activities.

Pew found that 50% of Internet users worry about the amount of personal information about them available online. That’s up from 33% who said the same in 2009. 86% of Internet users say they’ve taken steps to make themselves less visible on the web. Those actions include clearing  browser histories (64%), disabling cookies (41%), using a fake name (18%) and creating temporary e-mail addresses (26%) to make themselves less visible on the web. Pew based its findings on telephone surveys conducted in July of 1,002 consumers.

“Almost everyone has taken some action to avoid surveillance,” says Sara Kiesler, one of the authors of the Pew report and a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Hackers and advertisers are the top two groups consumers seek to shield their information from. A third of consumers in the survey say they have used the Internet in ways to avoid being observed by hackers or criminals, and 28% say the same about advertisers. More men, 33%, than women, 24%, say they try to avoid detection by advertisers.

46% say it is “very important” to them that only those they authorize have access to know what web sites they browse, and 44% say the same for the searches they perform.

The majority of web users, 59%, do not believe it is possible to be truly anonymous online. 37% believe it is possible. 33% say they don’t believe people should be allowed to use the Internet anonymously.

Backing the statistic that online anonymity  may be hard to come by, the survey posed the following question: “Suppose you said something critical about a product online and you didn’t use your real name. How easy do you think it would be for the company to find out who you are anyway?” 42% of web users say very easy; 37% say somewhat easy; 13% say not too easy; and 3% say almost impossible. The remaining 5% say they don’t know.

Two-thirds, 66%, of consumers responding the survey say they think current privacy laws are “not good enough” and 24% say they provide “reasonable protection.” 9% say they don’t know and 1% refused to answer the question. Since 2011 several federal lawmakers have drafted Do Not Track legislation designed to make it easier for consumers to block tracking cookies, however none have gained much traction in Congress.  

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