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Online Banking and Shopping Deterred by Privacy Woes

Some recent surveys have shown that Americans are not as concerned about online privacy as we think that they should be. One survey conducted last month by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) under the Department of Commerce says otherwise. Sometimes it’s all about asking the right questions, and these 41,000 households surveyed during the July 2015 US census answered some specific questions about what online activities they avoid because they worry about identity theft and data mining.

Moving Away from the Internet

Many privacy advocates and even our top VPN providers have advised that the only way to really be 100% safe from online threats is to stop using the Internet. It sure looks like a lot of Americans are beginning to do just that, at least for their more sensitive activities.

Online privacy and security are certainly two very big factors that are affecting the way that Americans spend money online. The NTIA survey based on US Census data logged 45% of their respondents saying that they consciously limit at least one of their Internet activities because of privacy concerns. These residents are aware of the lack of security on the Internet, 30% of which said that they stopped engaging in at least two online activities due to privacy worries.

The respondents were asked what online activities were stopped or significantly reduced due to privacy concerns. Specifically, 29% of these households indicated the processing of financial transactions, and 26% indicated the purchase of services and goods. 26% also indicated social media posting, 19% of these saying that they stopped posting controversial opinions, which reflects the drop in social activity shown by the studies done on Facebook and Wikipedia use by the Journalism & Mass Communications Quarterly and the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, respectively.

The survey covered what these households actually did over the last year, and so can accurately reflect what behaviors and habits they will have regarding online transactions this year. The top two fears regarding online activities as reflected by the 41,000 households surveyed are identity theft, indicated by 63% of the respondents, banking and credit card fraud, indicated by 45%, data mining conducted by Internet companies offering online services, 23%, and data mining conducted by the government, 18%. 22% of the respondents were also worried about losing control over their personal data, and 13% worried about threats to their personal safety.

The NTIA was also able to conclude from the census data that 19% of the households surveyed had experienced a security breach due to Internet activities during the previous year. The NTIA says that this equates to about 19 million US households. 31% of the households that have and use five or more Internet-enabled devices suffered a breach. This, according to the NTIA, is because more devices means greater vulnerability.

Online Spending

Forrester Research, an IT and market research company, published a financial projection in the first quarter of 2012 that predicted American online spending would reach about 327 billion US dollars this year. We know that the US is one of the biggest online markets in the world, but we are not sure that this amount will be achieved. The Forrester report came out pre-Snowden, and the revelation of NSA spying and tech company involvement has had a huge impact on consumer confidence. The rise and expansion of cybercriminal operations in the past few years has also damaged consumer trust in online transactions.

When consumers cannot trust that their privacy is being protected by adequate security measures, the result is that they are discouraged from spending money online. Going by the results of the survey, this could mean a 27% drop in online spending. This, in turn, would mean a huge hit for banking and online shopping revenues. After the survey, the NTIA concluded that online services needed better security, namely a good encryption standard. This must be implemented by the online companies that consumers interact with, however, and they may not be keen on shouldering the additional expense. The cost of shoring up security can be very high, especially for financial institutions, which are ironically notorious for having some of the most outdated security practices. But the move has to be made, says the NTIA, because privacy and security fears are hindering economic growth. Free speech must also be better protected and encouraged for a healthy democratic society.

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