network securityAmericans’ trust in online security and personal privacy is on the wane, and its beginning to impact online behavior. Rising prominence of data breaches, cybersecurity incidents and controversies regarding the privacy of online services is prompting some to limit their online activities, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Having a bad online experience posed the most direct threat to maintaining consumer trust, NTIA found in analyzing data collected from more than 41,000 households with at least one Internet user by the U.S. Census Bureau in July 2015. One in five – 19% or nearly 19 million Internet households – reported having been the victim of an online security breach, identify theft or other malicious online activity during the previous 12 months, NTIA highlights in a news release.

The Consequences of Bad Online Experiences and the Impact on Online Behavior
Experiencing security breaches or other types of malicious online activity appeared to be more common in households where online activity, and the number of connected devices in use, were higher. Nine percent of online households in which just one type of device was in use reported having experienced security breaches. That rose to 31% among those in which at least five different types of connected devices were in use.

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Furthermore, just over 1 in 5 (22%) with a mobile data plan experienced an online security breach. That compares to 11% of those who don’t use a mobile data plan when outside the home. These results suggest that the likelihood of being victimized is greater for those that are constantly connected, NTIA points out.

online behavior
Major Concerns Related to Online Privacy and Security Risks,
Percent of Households with Internet Users, 2015 (Source: NTIA)

Querying participants regarding what concerned them most when it comes to online privacy and security risks, 84% cited at least one to do with online privacy and security. About 4 in 10 cited at least two different concerns. More than 6 in 10 (63%) cited identity theft, making it the most frequently cited.

Other common concerns included credit card or banking fraud, data collection or tracking by online services, loss of control over personal data, data collection or tracking by government, and threats to personal safety.

The prevalence of data security and online privacy concerns was higher among online households that had experienced a security breach in the past year. Seven in 10 pegged identity theft as one of the issues that concerned them most as compared to 62% among those that had not experienced a security breach in the previous 12 months. That pattern persisted among other concerns: 30% of those affected by security breaches expressed concerns about data collection or tracking by online services as compared to 21% of those unaffected.

ntia online behavior 2
Online Activities Avoided Due to Privacy or Security Concerns
by Selected Groups, Percent of Households (HHs) with Internet Users, 2015 (Source: NTIA)

Most troubling according to NTIA were results regarding online households refraining to engage in certain online activities due to privacy and/or security concerns. Forty-five percent said such concerns stopped them from carrying out financial transactions, buying goods or services, posting on social networks or expressing opinions on controversial political issues online. Three in 10 refrained from at least two of these activities.

Threat to Democracy as well as the Economy
Again, the percentages were higher among online households that had experienced a data security breach in the previous 12 months, or that had expressed two or more major security or privacy concerns. Thirty-five percent reported they had refrained from engaging in financial transactions online during the past year. One-third of those concerned about online credit card or banking fraud said they refrained from buying goods or services online. That compares to 21% among those that didn’t express such concerns.

Equally, if not more, troubling were indications that declining trust in online security and privacy is also hampering democracy and free expression of opinions, NTIA noted. Three in 10 online households (29%) concerned about government data collection said they did not express controversial personal or political opinions online. That compares to 16% among those who did not express such concerns.

The results just scratch the surface of the interrelationships between online data security and personal privacy, Americans’ online activity, the economy and the functioning of the U.S.’ representative democracy, NTIA continues. NTIA says it will continue to explore these issues.

NTIA also pointed out the importance for policy makers to keep up to date and formulate policies to enhance and maintain Americans’ trust in the Internet and online services and activities. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in March proposed instituting new broadband consumer privacy rules that would determine how ISPs use and secure customer data.

NTIA, for its part, helped craft President Barrack Obama’s 2012 privacy blueprint. Following that, the President last year introduced draft privacy legislation that would require provision of baseline privacy protections to all Americans. NTIA is instituting processes to gather input from multiple stakeholders across the country aimed at improving online data security and personal privacy protections, including fast emerging concerns revolving around the Internet of Things.

The rise in prominence of online security and privacy isn’t limited to the U.S. More than 8 in 10 people in 24 countries believe new rules governing how companies, governments and others make use of personal data, according to a research report from the Center for International Governance Innovation.

Image courtesy of flickr user Yuri Samoilov.

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