A new survey finds that most internet users would like to be anonymous online, but many think it is not possible to be completely anonymous online. Some of the key findings:
- 86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints—ranging from clearing cookies to encrypting their email.
- 55% of internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government.
The representative survey of 792 internet users also finds that notable numbers of internet users say they have experienced problems because others stole their personal information or otherwise took advantage of their visibility online. Specifically:
- 21% of internet users have had an email or social networking account compromised or taken over by someone else without permission.
- 12% have been stalked or harassed online.
- 11% have had important personal information stolen such as their Social Security Number, credit card, or bank account information.
- 6% have been the victim of an online scam and lost money.
- 6% have had their reputation damaged because of something that happened online.
- 4% have been led into physical danger because of something that happened online.
“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 and an author of a report on the survey findings. “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.”
About the Survey
This survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project was underwritten by Carnegie Mellon University. The findings in this report are based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from July 11-14, among a sample of 1,002 adults ages 18 and older. Telephone interviews were conducted in English by landline and cell phone. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points and for the results from 792 internet and smartphone users in the sample, the margin of error is 3.8 percentage points. More information is available in the Methods section at the end of this report.