Public Concern Over Online Data Privacy Rising

By Chris Freeburn February 28, 2012

With the hacking of customer information from major retailers and corporations almost a daily news event, it hardly comes as a surprise that the public is expressing greater worry about the security of their online data, and that many people are taking steps to enhance their online security. A study by the Pew Research Center shows that more than half of people responding to the most recent survey have restricted their social media profiles only to registered friends and family.

Pew found that almost two-thirds of Internet users maintain some form of Web-based social media profile. For most people, online social media profiles link them to other people and incorporate personal information often including their area of residence, career, family members and personal habits and hobbies.

According to Pew, online privacy concerns have divided the public. Many people simply believe that online privacy is impossible because people share so much personal information online. “Other threads of the privacy-is-dead argument point to the relative ease with which people’s digital footprints and physical whereabouts can now be tracked and the great lengths to which someone must go to protect their anonymity online — or offline,” Pew reports in its study.

Only 20 percent of respondents to the Pew Internet and American Life Project survey indicated that they left their social media profiles open to public inspection. Age did not significantly affect this. While 63 percent of respondents reported deleting people from their “friends” lists, up from 56 percent in 2009, 44 percent said they had removed comments made by others on their profile. Thirty-seven percent told Pew they had removed identifying information from photos posted online. Still, almost half of respondents confessed to finding online privacy controls confusing.

“In all, 48 percent of social media users report some level of difficulty in managing the privacy controls on their profile, while 49 percent say that it is “not difficult at all.” Very few users (2 percent) describe their experiences as “very difficult,” while 16 percent say they are “somewhat difficult” and another 30 percent say the controls are “not too difficult” to manage,” Pew found.

According to Pew, “male profile owners are almost twice as likely as female profile owners to profess regret for posting content (15 percent vs. 8 percent). Young adults are also more prone to say they regret some of their social media postings; 15 percent of profile owners ages 18-29 say they have posted content they later regret, compared with just 5 percent of profile owners ages 50 and older.“

Public concern over online privacy has spilled into the political arena. President Obama recently introduced proposals for a online consumer bill of privacy rights. The bill of rights outlined by the White House, includes individual control, transparency, respect for context, security, access and accuracy, focused collection and accountability, giving consumers control over who collects their personal data online and how it will be used. Companies or organizations collecting such data will be required to disclose the collection means and the use to which the data will be put. Thus far, the president’s proposals have received a mixed reaction from industry analysts and Congress.

Rising concerns over the collection and use of personal data by Internet powerhouse Google prompted the company to apologize to users and revise its privacy policies.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

TechZone360 Web Editor

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