More Americans Trying to Shield Personal Data Online, Survey Finds

SAN FRANCISCO (Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

Many Americans are taking steps to protect their personal information online even as they share more of it than ever before on social networks and other services, according to a new survey.

Nearly 9 in 10 people who took part in the study have tried at least one method to avoid being tracked online, such as clearing tracking cookies or their browser history. Some have even tried encryption.

Contributing to growing anxiety over leaving digital footprints is the belief that the law – which has done little to curb the rampant practice of tracking Americans as they browse the web – is not sufficient to protect their privacy online.

Those were among the findings of a new survey from Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, which comes amid revelations of far-reaching U.S. government surveillance of electronic communications.

Half of internet users said they worry about the information that is available about them online, up from 33 percent in 2009.

Who are they trying to keep from snooping on their online activities?

About a third of those surveyed said they fear hackers or criminals, and 28 percent said they want to keep advertisers from tracking them. Still others are just trying to keep sensitive information out of the hands of other family members, bosses or the government.

Some of this growing sensitivity comes from negative experiences on the web. Some 21 percent of internet users said they have had an email or social networking account compromised or hacked, and 11 percent said they had important personal information, such as a Social Security or credit card number, stolen.

“Users clearly want the option of being anonymous online, and increasingly worry that this is not possible,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Center’s Internet Project, and an author of a report on the survey findings.

Efforts to develop global standards for a “Do Not Track” setting for web browsers have stalled.