A new survey out today from the Pew Research Center shows that internet users are concerned about their privacy online, but many feel that anonymity online is just not all that possible anymore.

In a representative survey of 792 internet users, 86% have tried in some form or another to cover their digital footprints, and 55% have tried to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government.

But as technology reporter Brian Fung at the Washington Post points out, “The good news is that there’s a big gap between people’s expectations and what most have already tried.”

Indeed, most are already trying common methods such as clearing and disabling cookies, deleting past posts, and using temporary email addresses and usernames.

Fung offers a helpful set of tips that are more advanced than the basics but are still easy enough for most users to employ without a lot of technical competence.  They range from encrypting your email and chats, to employing private browsing and anonymizers like Tor, to using a password manager.  I recommend his post – it’s a short and easy read.

There was also another component to the Pew survey however that I also found interesting.  It’s a rough obstacle course out there.  In fact, many are more concerned with protecting their personal information from the eyes of hackers, advertisers and family members than they are about the government’s observation.

CNET picked up on it:

A fair percentage of people have already run into trouble online. Among those polled, 21 percent have seen their e-mail or social network accounts compromised, 12 percent have been stalked or harrassed online, and 6 percent said their reputation was hurt because of something that happened online.

“Users clearly want the option of being anonymous online and increasingly worry that this is not possible,” Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and the author of the report on the survey, said in a statement. “Their concerns apply to an entire ecosystem of surveillance. In fact, they are more intent on trying to mask their personal information from hackers, advertisers, friends, and family members than they are trying to avoid observation by the government.”

You can visit Pew Internet to download the full report and check out the survey questions.


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