Online Privacy a Major Concern for Americans

The poll also suggested that many Americans don't think it is their responsibility to set limits on their privacy, even as many skim terms of service.

social media and Web security

Almost three-quarters of Americans worry about the quantity of personal information available online, according to a survey conducted by Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies and Craig Newmark of craigconnects.

More than half of the 1,007 Americans surveyed said they feel they cannot trust social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to keep their contact information, buying habits and political beliefs confidential.

"People are concerned with privacy, but not enough that they are willing to forgo using sites like Facebook or Twitter," Stefan Hankin, president and founder of Lincoln Park Strategies, told eWEEK. "These sites, especially Facebook, are how millions of people communicate with friends and family, and not using them because of privacy concerns would have an impact on the way that people are able to connect with others and be involved in their lives."

The poll also suggested that many Americans do not think it is their responsibility to set limits on their privacy.

While 60 percent of respondents either thought current privacy laws were too weak or weren’t sure, two-thirds said they either skim through a Website’s terms of service (TOS) before agreeing or do not read the terms of service at all.

The first thing that people need to do is to actually read, not skim, the TOS before they sign up for a platform or Website and give away their information, Hankin said.

"Even though it's filled with legal jargon, people can still get some sense of the type of data that the site is currently collecting and how they plan to use it," he explained.

At the top of the list of concerns in terms of technology were tracking cookies, according to survey results.

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of respondents said they were concerned about such cookies being placed on their computers without their knowledge, and 36 percent said they knew for a fact that this had happened to them.

The survey also indicated the mistrust of Websites and social media, and concerns about privacy rise as Americans get older.

Those over 65 expressed the least trust in social media, and were most certain their data was being sold and felt most strongly that privacy laws need to be strengthened. Overall, seniors expressed concern at roughly twice the rate of poll respondents under 35.

"Seniors generally express more concerns about privacy since they grew up without the Internet, computers and social media sites and have a different relationship with the medium," Hankin said. "When they grew up, it was much easier to keep life private compared to now. Younger people are more accustomed to having their information online, and therefore are less concerned since it's what they know."

Although the survey didn't touch on what exactly Americans' fears are when it comes specifically to what is being done with their information, it did ask about overall concerns when it comes to the Internet.

The biggest concern was downloading a virus (46 percent very concerned) followed by having your identity stolen (42 percent), having email hacked (40 percent) and by having too much personal information available to the public (40 percent).