A new government survey shows that some U.S. households are growing averse to even the most routine online transactions, due to cyberattacks imperiling users' finances, identities and privacy.
Such reluctance could have a chilling effect on the digital economy and free speech, if privacy and security concerns are not adequately addressed, according to a report from the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The U.S. Census Bureau conducted the survey on behalf of the NTIA in July 2015. More than 41,000 households participating in the survey had at least one Internet-connected device in use.
A sizable 45 percent of Internet-enabled households reported to the Census Bureau that privacy and security concerns deterred them from performing at least one common online activity over the previous year. Such activities included financial transactions, purchasing goods or services, social media posting and expressing controversial or political opinions online.
Breaking it down further, the NTIA reported that 29 percent of online households specifically avoided digital finance transactions in the year leading up to the survey, while 26 percent eschewed buying goods and services via the internet. Those percentages jumped even higher when focusing exclusively on households that experienced a breach within the previous year. In this “once bitten, twice shy” scenario, 40 of previously breached households refused to perform online financial transactions and 35 percent avoided e-commerce purchases.
In total, 19 percent of Internet-connected households confirmed that they had experienced a data breach, ID theft, or similar malicious activity sometime within the previous 12 months. Applying this percentage to the entire online U.S. population, the NTIA extrapolated that almost 19 million households were impacted by a security or privacy threat within this same 12-month span.
The most commonly cited fear among survey-takers was identity theft, with 63 percent of online households naming this as a chief concern, following by credit card or banking fraud (45 percent), unwanted data collection by online services (23 percent), loss of control over personal data (22 percent), data collection by the government (18 percent) and threats to personal safety (13 percent). Survey-takers were not prompted with pre-set list of concerns, but rather were free to cite whatever threat was top of mind for them. Altogether, 84 percent of online households named at least one concern.
“It is clear that policymakers need to develop a better understanding of mistrust in the privacy and security of the Internet and the resulting chilling effects,” wrote Rafi Goldberg, policy analyst with the NTIA's Office of Policy Analysis and Development and author of the blog post detailing the survey's findings. “In addition to being a problem of great concern to many Americans, privacy and security issues may reduce economic activity and hamper the free exchange of ideas online.”
Asked for additional comment, the NTIA redirected SCMagazine.com to Goldberg's original blog post.