December 30, 2007

Information Searches That Solve Problems

Chapter 7: The Impact of Privacy Concerns on Information Seeking

People who identified health matters or education matters showed more concern in using libraries than people who had other matters.

The internet has opened worlds of information to Americans, but going online to search for it can carry a risk of unintentionally disclosing personal, sensitive and even embarrassing personal information. About one in five of those who have dealt with some specific problem recently (19%) say that such a fear of disclosure of personal information played at least some role in deciding how they would search for information or help. The fears play a role for those searching offline as well as online.

Just over one quarter, 26%, of those who used the internet to address a recent problem  admitted a concern that doing so might reveal private or sensitive information about themselves to others – such as someone they know, or a private company, or a government agency. Similarly, 23% of those who used the library voiced the same concern. And those who contacted a government office or agency were least concerned about such disclosures, at 17%.

Demographics are relatively unrelated to privacy concerns. Education has the most impact: 34% of those who completed high school at most expressed privacy concerns about using the internet, compared with 22% of those who attended college. And 32% of those who completed high school at most were also concerned about using the library, compared with 16% of those with more education. 

Race also mattered in one circumstance: 30% of Latinos showed concern about privacy when going to a government office, compared with 13% of white Americans.

People who identified health matters or education matters showed more concern in using libraries than people who had other matters.

Worries about privacy may have had some modest impact on the individuals’ success rates in finding information. Among those who said a privacy concern shaped their choice of information sources, about 51% reported being very successful, while 63% of those who did not mention privacy concerns were very successful. That margin is partially offset by the 39% of those with concerns who report being somewhat successful, compared with 27% of those without such concerns.

Cite this publication: Lee Rainie, Leigh Estabrook and Evans Witt. “Information Searches That Solve Problems.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (December 30, 2007) http://www.pewinternet.org/2007/12/30/information-searches-that-solve-problems/, accessed on July 23, 2014.