I’m far too lax about my personal information online. One of my old coworkers—an IT guy—encrypted everything, disabled his cookies, and wiped his history every day. I always rationalize my laziness by thinking, “what’s the worst they’re going to find? The Hanson fan fiction I wrote as a teenager? NO SHAME.” (I’m very ashamed. I STILL LOVE YOU, TAYLOR.)
A new report released Thursday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that 86% of Internet users have taken steps to hide their Internet activity, be it in the form of encrypting data, wiping cookies, or just using an anonymous screen name. Some 55% of Internet users have taken steps to hide their activity from specific people, organizations, or the government.
People have good reason to be fearful (and not just because of their fan fiction). A full 21% of Internet users surveyed say they had an email or social network account hacked. Another 12% have been stalked or harassed online. And 10% have had important information stolen, such as a social security number, credit card number, or bank account information.
Today, 50% of Internet users say they’re worried about how much of their information is online, which is up from 33% in 2009.
“Users clearly want the option of being anonymous online and increasingly worry that this is not possible,” said Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, in a statement. “Their concerns apply to an entire ecosystem of surveillance. In fact, they are more intent on trying to mask their personal information from hackers, advertisers, friends and family members than they are trying to avoid observation by the government.”
Indeed, a third of those who go through the trouble of concealing their Web activity are specifically trying to avoid hackers and criminals, while 28% are trying to avoid advertisers. Only 11% are worried about their employer/supervisor/coworkers finding their posts and information online—which is bizarre, because I’m terrified of my boss finding the neo-conservative posts I put up on Republican message boards when I was a teenager. It was a phase.
Only 5% are purposely trying to hide their data from the government.
But while nearly two-thirds of Internet users believe that people should be able to use the Internet completely anonymously, the same number (57%) believe it’s impossible. Interestingly, women are far more likely than men to say complete anonymity is impossible on the Internet—64% to 54%, respectively.
So for now, keep fighting the good fight and clearing those cookies with the understanding that none of it matters. THE MATRIX HAS YOU.
Image source: erroraccessdenied.com