September 5, 2013

Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online

Part 4: How Users Feel About the Sensitivity of Certain Kinds of Data

Online Americans believe that different kinds of data trails have different value and they want control over some of the more personal material.

To test the varying views on the importance of different types of personal information, we asked respondents how important it was to them “that only you and those you authorize have access to” particular pieces of information. Here are the responses that said their control was “very important”:

  • 68% of internet users say it is very important that only they or those they authorize have access to the content of their emails.
  • 62% say it is very important that only they or those they authorize have access to the people they exchange emails with.
  • 55% say it is very important that only they or those they authorize have access to the content of the files they download.
  • 54% say it is very important that only they or those they authorize have access to the place where they are located when they use the internet.
  • 51% say it is very important that only they or those they authorize have access to the content of their online chats or hangouts with others.
  • 46% say it is very important that only they or those they authorize have access to the websites they browse
  • 44% say it is very important that only they or those they authorize have access to the content of the searches they perform.
  • 40% say it is very important that only they or those they authorize have access to the applications and programs they use.
  • 33% say it is very important that only they or those they authorize have access to the times of day they are online.

Clearly, key communications and content are relatively precious to internet users and information about the time of day when they are online is not nearly as important for users to control. Some of the strongest sentiments about controlling personal information are exhibited by those ages 30-49.

ages 30-49 are often most eager to control access to their personal information

Those who are worried about the amount of information available about them online are consistently more likely than others to say it is very important to them that they or those they authorize have access to pieces of personal information. And those who think current laws do not offer enough privacy protection are more likely than others to say it is very important they have this kind of control.

those who say current privacy laws are not adequate are more likely to hold strong views about controlling personal data

There are also some differences on these questions between online women and men. Women who use the internet are more likely than men to say it is very important that only they or those they authorize  know who they are emailing (67% vs. 57%). Online women are more likely to say it is very important for them to control access to information about the place where they are located when they go online (60% vs. 49%).