Why you can trust us

Engadget has been testing and reviewing consumer tech since 2004. Our stories may include affiliate links; if you buy something through a link, we may earn a commission. Read more about how we evaluate products.

Data breaches and spying fears are keeping people offline

An official US study shows that security jitters have led people to scale back their internet use.


Have countless data breaches and unfettered government surveillance left you nervous about doing things online? You're definitely not alone. The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration has conducted a survey revealing that nearly half of the Americans it surveyed (41,000 homes) have scaled back their internet activity over privacy and security fears. About 29 percent have avoided online finances, while 26 percent skipped online shopping. A similar amount decided against posting on social networks, and 19 percent even decided against offering "controversial" opinions online.

Most of the concerns are more practical than philosophical. A total of 63 percent of those studied were worried about possible identity theft, and 45 percent about fraud. Only 23 percent were anxious about online services scraping their data, and 18 percent were fretting over government data collection. About 13 percent were worried about their safety. In short: while Edward Snowden's surveillance leaks had an impact, money is still the driving factor for most people.

The NTIA wants to conduct further studies to know exactly what's going on. However, it already believes that there's a mounting "mistrust" of internet privacy and security. The researchers believe that the US government (and arguably, any government) should follow policies that encourage confidence, such as pushing for strong encryption and requiring a minimum level of privacy protection. If it doesn't, it risks hurting the "digital economy" and holding the country back.