Nearly 90% of Internet users have employed at least one technique to try and hide their digital footprints, and nearly half are worried about the amount of their personal information that is online, according to a study by the Pew Research Center and Carnegie Mellon University.
As the depth of NSA snooping continues to be revealed, the 35-page survey, titled Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online, shows that 86% of adult Internet users have taken steps from time to time to avoid surveillance by other people or organizations when they are online.
But the survey did note that considerably more people take steps to avoid advertisers and "unpleasant social observation" than those who take steps to avoid detection by their employers or by government or law enforcement.
The users employ techniques such as clearing cookies (64%), encrypting email (14%), not using web sites that asked for their real name (36%), and using virtual network to mask their IP address (14%).
The survey showed younger users (18-29) were more likely to try an obscure their Internet tracks, and showed women (55%) were more likely than men (43%) to use their real name when they post material online.
But only 37% of respondents think it is possible to be completely anonymous online, and 33% said people should not be allowed to use the Internet anonymously.
In addition, respondents said they would like control over their information and said only people they authorize should have access to the content of their emails, who is receiving that email, the places they visit online and the content of the files they download.
Despite these concerns, the amount of people using social media sites continues to climb. The number of people using Facebook each month grew from 901 million in March 2012 to 1.11 billion in March 2013 - a 23% increase. Facebook announced those numbers during its earnings report in March.
The Pew survey said most Internet users know that key pieces of their personal information are available online, and 50% say they worry about that fact. The number is up from 33% in 2009. Survey respondents age 30-49 were the most eager to control access to their personal information.
In the survey, 21% said they have had email and social media accounts hijacked, and 11% said they lost vital information such as social security numbers and bank account data.
As far as laws that protect privacy, 68% said current laws are not good enough, while 24% said they are reasonable protections.
Pew Research and Carnegie Mellon University conducted the report jointly under the leadership of Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project, and Sara Kiesler, Hillman Professor of Computer Science and Human‐Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. The survey was done in July with 1,002 Internet users who were 18 and older.