Study: many Americans limit Internet use over a roster of fears

The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) has published a new study that found a combination of concerns about security and privacy are causing some Americans to limit their online activities, something that could, over time, impact the economy and more. The lack of trust in online safety comes at a time when report after report details mass government spying against citizens and cybersecurity breaches that leave ordinary users exposed and vulnerable.

The study looked into 41,000 American households in the form of a survey; these households self-reported having at least one Internet user. Of them, 19-percent said they had been affected by some kind of negative online issue or activity, such as having their identity stolen or some sort of security breach. The study found that homes with more "intensive" Internet use are more likely to suffer from one of these malicious activities.

Concerns among Internet-using households is particularly high, with the study finding that identity theft is by far the largest concern, affecting 63-percent of users. Second was bank/credit card fraud (45-percent), followed by having their data collected (23-percent), not having control over their personal data (22-percent), having their data harvested by the government (18-percent), and suffering some sort of threat to their personal safety (13-percent).

Of those surveyed, 84-percent had at least one of the above concerns, while 40-percent had at least two concerns. Once affected by a breach or issue, households were more likely to have negative attitudes toward Internet use and to have higher levels of concern.

Surprisingly, a very large number of surveyed households have limited their Internet usage in fairly drastic ways due to their concerns. Forty-five-percent of them, for example, have stopped or refrained from things like posting on social media, making controversial and/or political opinions known online, making financial transactions, and accessing services through the Internet.

Not surprisingly, those who were concerned about one particular type of Internet issue were likely to refrain from Internet activities most relevant to it — for example, those who think the government is spying on them are more likely to avoid posting political opinions online, while those most afraid of identity theft were more likely to avoid buying stuff online.