Americans More Worried About Hacking Than Spying
September 5, 2013

Americans More Concerned About Being Hacked Than Spied On

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

A new study from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project finds that more than half of Americans are concerned about being watched by their government, but nearly 90 percent of those living in the states are more concerned with facing a hacker attack or losing their money online.

Many have used services to conceal their identity or create alternate identities to avoid being tracked by companies and pitched to or even stolen by cyber criminals. Americans’ biggest concern, according to Pew study, is the theft of their money or information. The government’s domestic spying program, Prism, has yet to inspire Americans to move in the same way they already have to protect themselves from hackers and criminals.

Many of those who responded to Pew’s survey reported having their social network account compromised, being stalked online, losing money or having their reputation ruined. Overall, Pew’s research found that 59 percent of Americans are pessimistic about being able to go completely anonymous online. Only 37 percent, then, believe one can navigate the web without being traced.

Americans are using various methods to surf anonymously, or at least get as close as they can to doing so. Some start small and erase their browser history and cookies before logging off to keep some companies from tracking them online. Others have opted for the various Do Not Track (DNT) methods available to them through their web browsers.

Over a third of those who take these steps say they do so primarily to keep their information out of the hands of hackers or those who might want to steal their identity. Another 28 percent, however, said they’re trying to skirt the annoying ads which pop up online.

Of those polled, 36 percent said they preferred using a different name when interacting with websites, and 21 percent said they had asked someone to take down pictures of themselves. There were even some respondents who said they browsed on public computers but gave websites inaccurate information about themselves.

More extreme measures have been taken to hide one’s identity online as well, including using encryption services, proxy servers and virtual private networks, or VPNs.

“These findings reinforce the notion that privacy is not an all-or-nothing proposition for Internet users,” explained Pew senior researcher Mary Madden in an interview with the Washington Post.

“People choose different strategies for different activities, for different content, to mask themselves from different people, at different times in their lives. What they clearly want is the power to decide who knows what about them.”

This study also found that Americans have a good idea of who they’re hiding from. When asked, 33 percent said they were trying to avoid “hackers or criminals,” while 28 percent were dodging advertisers, and 19 percent were hiding from their friends. Only five percent of those polled said they were concerned about keeping information from the government - less than those avoiding their spouses or loved ones and the companies they pirated material from.

Email is still quite important to Americans with 68 percent of respondents saying it is “very important” that only those with direct authorization should be allowed to view the contents within. Another 27 percent said it was only “somewhat important” for only authorized individuals to know which apps or programs they use.