Study: Online Privacy Concerns Increase
Privacy concerns stemming from online shopping rose in 2007, a new study finds,
as the loss or theft of credit card information and other personal data soared
to unprecedented levels.
Sixty-one percent of adult Americans said they were very or extremely concerned
about the privacy of personal information when buying online, an increase from
47 percent in 2006. Before last year, that figure had largely been dropping
People who do not shop online tend to be more worried, as are newer Internet
users, regardless of whether they buy things on the Internet, according to the
survey from the University of Southern California's Center for the Digital Future.
The study, to be released Thursday, comes as privacy and security groups report
that an increasing number of personal records are being compromised because
of data breaches at online retailers, banks, government agencies and corporations.
The Identity Theft Resource Center, for instance, listed more than 125 million
records reported compromised in the United States last year. That's a sixfold
increase from the nearly 20 million records reported in 2006.
Data breaches often result from lost or stolen computer equipment such as laptops,
though the single largest breach was a case of online hacking. Early last year,
disclosed that a data theft had exposed tens of millions of credit and debit
cards to potential fraud.
The card numbers were typically collected during brick-and-mortar retail transactions
at T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and other TJX chains. The breach is believed to have
started when hackers intercepted wireless transfers of customer information
at two Marshalls stores in Miami -- an entry point that led the hackers to eventually
break into TJX's central databases.
Nonetheless, concerns about credit card security have largely stabilized, with
57 percent very or extremely concerned last year. It was 53 percent in 2006,
a difference within the survey's margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points
in either direction.
As of 2007, two-thirds of adult Internet users shop online, compared with just
half a year earlier. Most spend $100 or less a month, and two-thirds of online
shoppers have reduced buying at brick-and-mortar stores.
"You'd think the logical attitude would be to look at this level of concern
and say I'm not going to shop on the Web, but it's not happening," said
Jeff Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future. "The advantages,
the conveniences are so extraordinary."
With credit card fraud, a customer's liability is capped at $50, and even that
amount is often waived. Customers often know of fraudulent charges quickly if
they check their accounts online or are notified by their banks, which have
security measures in place to flag suspicious transactions.
Identity theft, on the other hand, can take months and sometimes years to find
out about and resolve, Cole said, possibly explaining the greater concern over
Among other findings in the annual survey, online parents are more likely than
ever to withhold Internet use as punishment -- 62 percent in 2007, compared
with 47 percent a year earlier and 32 percent in 2000. For the first time, denying
Internet access is on par with banning television for bad behavior.
"What we've seen over those seven years is parents really now seeing that
the Internet has lots of great stuff on it and can be really important, but
also can be a time waster," Cole said. "They view it much closer to
the way they see television."
Nearly two-thirds of parents, meanwhile, worry about kids participating in
online communities and about half believe online predators to be a threat, notwithstanding
other research showing fewer youths receiving sexual solicitations over the
Internet as they become smarter about where they hang out and with whom they
"The perception is higher than reality, but the perception is significant
and leads to how much access you give your kids and whether you let them [surf]
unsupervised," Cole said.
Internet penetration continues to show signs of plateauing. The percentage
of former users who say they have no intention of going back online continues
to increase, and less than half of those who have never used the Internet plan
to log on in the coming year.
Newer users are more likely than veterans to access the Internet through a
dial-up connection, and newer users tend to spend an average of 1.2 hours a
week more than veterans playing online games. Veterans are more likely to read
a newspaper or listen to the radio over the Internet.
Twenty-one percent of Internet users have stopped a newspaper or magazine subscription
because they could get it online, while half of the Americans who read a print
edition of the paper said they would miss it if it were to go away.
The study of 2,021 Americans was conducted Feb. 28 to Aug. 6, with participants
selected randomly by telephone.