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Online privacy in the United States - statistics & facts

With over 313 million internet users, the United States is among the leading online markets in the world. Over the last two decades, internet penetration rates have surged, and the digital footprint of Americans has expanded at a rapid pace. In this data-driven environment, however, a connection to the largest global information base comes at a price, as the much-debated issue of digital privacy and the growing number of data breaches have repeatedly shown. While some see the loss of privacy as a necessary evil, almost 50 percent of U.S. internet users were more concerned about online privacy in 2019 than they were in 2018.

This wariness about the state of digital privacy is influenced by the lack of awareness about data protection and privacy rules among citizens. Apart from that, the fast-paced nature of the internet and the ever-evolving state of cybercrime is also making it hard for policymakers, technology developers, and individual users to keep up with the various forms of online danger. According to a 2019 survey, over 80 percent of U.S. internet users felt that their data was vulnerable to hackers. The most pressing online privacy concerns among mobile users revolve around the disclosure of sensitive personal data such as credit card information or social security numbers, identity theft, and financial damage. When asked about their attitudes towards the internet in early 2020, almost 40 percent of American adults stated concerns about the misuse of their online data.

Another source of worry for internet users is the involvement of governments in the online activities of their nationals. In the United States, such fears were furthered during the 2013 leak of operational details about the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and its partners' global surveillance of foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. A sizeable number of internet users and IT professionals do not believe that governments should have access to encrypted information systems, and many online users have adopted strategies to hide their information from the government. In light of these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that 80 percent of Americans reported online privacy concerns due to their government in 2019.

This general unease with the collection, use, and dissemination of personal online data by agencies was also reflected in response to contact-tracing applications during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. When asked about their feelings towards the privacy implications of contact-tracing tools, 34 percent of adults stated discomfort with the idea of tech companies sharing location data with the government. While this figure indicates a demand for user control over online activities and personal information, a large share of online users is willing to accept certain privacy risks in favor of convenience.


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