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JimM
Posts: 2,308
Topics: 299
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Registered: ‎01-19-2012

Pew Research Study Findings on Anonymity

[ Edited ]

A new study from the Pew Research Center features a bevy of interesting statistics about online anonymity.  Key highlights include the following:

  • 86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints—ranging from clearing cookies to encrypting their email, from avoiding using their name to using virtual networks that mask their internet protocol (IP) address.
  • 68% of internet users believe current laws are not good enough in protecting people's privacy online
  • 55% of internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government
  • 21% of internet users have had an email or social networking account compromised or taken over by someone else without permission.
  • 13% of internet users have experienced trouble in a relationship between them and a family member or a friend because of something the user posted online.
  • 12% of internet users have been stalked or harassed online.
  • 11% of internet users have had important personal information stolen such as their Social Security Number, credit card, or bank account information.
  • 6% of internet users have been the victim of an online scam and lost money.
  • 6% of internet users have had their reputation damaged because of something that happened online.
  • 4% of internet users have been led into physical danger because of something that happened online.
  • 1% of internet users have lost a job opportunity or educational opportunity because of something they posted online or someone posted about them.

 

Privacy is clearly an important issue for the average internet user.  59% of internet users say people should have the ability to use the internet completely anonymously.  37% of respondents still believe it's possible to be completely anonymous online.  59% said it was impossible.

 

It's no surprise that younger adults value anonymity higher than their older counterparts.  The graph below illustrates that the age gap applies to internet security.  Malware authors understand this and try to target older individuals with their phishing emails because of a higher success rate.

 

 pewpew.PNG

 

When it comes to who internet users are trying to hide from, hackers and criminals are unsurprisingly at the top of the list:

  • 33% of internet users said they had tried to hide their activities from hackers or criminals
  • 28% said they had tried to hide their activities from advertisers
  • 19% said they had tried to hide their activities from people in their past
  • 19% said they had tried to hide their activities from certain friends
  • 17% said they had tried to hide their activities from people who might criticize, harass, or target them
  • 14% said they had tried to hide their activities from family members or a romantic partner
  • 11% said they had tried to hide their activities from an employer, supervisor, or coworkers
  • 6% said they had tried to hide their activities from companies or people who run the websites they visit
  • 6% said they had tried to hide their activities from companies or people that might want payment for the files they downloaded such as songs, movies, or games
  • 5% said they had tried to hide their activities from the government
  • 4% said they had tried to hide their activities from law enforcement

 

More shockingly, only 55% of internet users said they have taken steps to avoid being observed by at least one of these groups.  That means 45% of internet users are oblivious to their own privacy concerns, and even more tellingly, 66% of internet users don't try to hide from hackers and criminals.  With statistics like that, it's no wonder that identity stealing attacks have been on the rise year after year.

 

When it comes to identity theft, reputation damage, and security issues, the survey said:

  • 21% of internet users have had an email or social networking account compromised or taken over without their 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 had their reputation damaged because of something that happened online.
  • 6% have been the victim of an online scam and lost money.
  • 4% have had something happen online that led them into physical danger.

 

The survey does not try to correlate between whether or not the 11% that had their personal information stolen were comprised primarily of the 45% of internet users who don't care about hiding from hackers, but it's a safe bet that users who don't care about mitigating risk are at a higher risk themselves.

 

From a security perspective, in summary, while 86% of internet users have taken some kind of action of some sort to cover their steps online, only 33% of internet users tried to hide their activities specifically from hackers and criminals, and only 18% tried to mask their identity11% of all internet users were victims of identity theft, and 6% actually lost money due to an online scam.

 

My own conclusion from this data is that internet users need to try harder to stay safe online.  As the graph below shows, the 86% of internet users who took some action to try to stay anonymous online was weighted heavily by actions that realistically have little to no impact on actual online privacy.  Clearing your cookies and browser history is simply not sufficient.

 

pewpew2.PNG

 

Masking your identity, on the other hand, is a useful thing to do when it comes to staying safe online.  If you want to join the 33% of users who actually care about their online safety enough to do something about it and stay out of the 11% of users whose identities are stolen, you need a powerful solution to online identity theft.  That solution is the Identity Shield, found in all versions of Webroot SecureAnywhere.  For more on the Identity Shield, check out our deep dive article to learn all about it and how it can help protect you from identity theft.  Then check out our sale on Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete (offer ends October 1st, 2013).

/// JimM ///
/// Former Community Manager - Now Humble Internet Citizen///
/// Also Formerly a Technical Support Escalations Engineer ///
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idrisp
Posts: 12
Registered: ‎09-13-2013

Re: Pew Research Study Findings on Anonymity

Yes internet stalking is a big issuse for me.I strongly beleive i have an internet stalker that monitors my web use for the past 2 years.Wat steps can i take on finding out who this person is?
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JimM
Posts: 2,308
Topics: 299
Kudos: 1,320
Registered: ‎01-19-2012

Re: Pew Research Study Findings on Anonymity

Hi idrisp,

 

Great question.

 

In a situation in which you're already confident you're being stalked, the best thing to do is not respond to the stalker.  This could be misconstrued as an invitation for the person to continue harassing you.  However, don't delete any of the evidence either.  If you want to report the person, deleting all of the harassing messages as they come in just makes it harder for you to make your case later.  Police departments are getting better about having dedicated cybercrime units these days, and you can contact your local police department to find out what kind of options you have when it comes to dealing with the perpetrator.  In many ways, online stalking is easier to prosecute than physical stalking because of an increased propensity to leave a trail.

 

You can also make use of the features built into the websites you use.  Facebook is a good example of a company that is getting this right.  You can very easily report a comment as abuse and then block the offending poster.

 

Find out exactly how easy it is to stalk yourself.  Search your phone number in Google and see what all it pulls up.  Do the same thing with your address, your full name, and anything else you think might be used to track you online.  Pretend you're stalking yourself.  This can often be a fun but eye-opening activity.  When you find something about yourself that's obviously not something you want to find on a search engine, try getting it pulled down.  Sometimes you just need to log into where you posted the material to begin with and edit it out.  Other times maybe you need to contact a site admin.

 

There are also of course some things you can do to stop stalking before it starts:
1. Be mindful of the level of personal detail you include in your online posts.

Identifying yourself as who you really are makes it easier for anyone to Google Search you and learn more about you.

 

2. Don't ever post phone numbers, dates of birth, passwords, addresses, or anything else that could be used to personally identify you. 

It's easy to think "The stalker won't see this because it's on a place online that he doesn't know about," but that's a fallacy.  Google search-indexes basically the entire known internet, and a search for something as simple as an unusual username can turn up all of your online posts from all of the various places you've posted things online.  That phone number you might have posted up somewhere in some obscure place could be easier to find than you think.  Craigslist is a good example of how many people can unwittingly make themselves a lot easier to find than they really intended.  If you post up an add, don't include your full name, and try to avoid providing the address within the post itself, particularly when accompanied by a phone number.  Otherwise, if the stalker googles just one of those things, he's likely to come away with the other as well.

 

3. Password Management.  Password Management.  Password Management.

If you use one password for everything, how hard do you think it would be for a cyberstalker to log into everywhere he knows you have an account online?  Clearly it would be much easier than if you had multiple passwords.  Once a stalker figures out one password, he would have all of them at that point.  Yes, it's really easy for you to remember that one, easy little password, but what if you made it easy on yourself in a different way by having Webroot sign you in to everywhere you go online?  In doing so, you can change all of your online passwords to practically-impossible-to-guess random strings of letters and numbers without needing to worry that you'll forget them.  The benefit of having multiple passwords is that even if the stalker has one, he still doesn't have them all.

 

4. Don't tell people where you're going or where you've been. 

A lot of folks like FourSquare and checking in on Facebook and publicly posting that you'll be attending an event.  Unsurprisingly, stalkers can make use of these tools.  Either don't use them or make certain you have your privacy settings configured appropriately.

 

Residents of the U.S. may find this list of state cyberstalking and cyberharrassment laws to be useful.  Checking it can tell you (albeit in verbose legalese) whether or not you may have a good case against your stalker.

/// JimM ///
/// Former Community Manager - Now Humble Internet Citizen///
/// Also Formerly a Technical Support Escalations Engineer ///
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