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How much do Americans really value their online privacy?

Do as I say, not as I do appears to be the approach of most Americans when it comes to digital security and privacy. According to a new study from Hide My Ass! (HMA), a global virtual private network provider, U.S. residents seem to maintain a disconnect between their attitudes and their actions when it comes to online behaviors. Despite increasing occurrences of data breaches, hacks, and general security risks on the Internet, consumers still seem to be relatively laissez-faire when it comes to really protecting themselves in the digital arena. In a joint effort with Morar Consulting, HMA found that “while two thirds of respondents say they would like extra layers of online privacy and security, their actions prove otherwise.”

According to study findings, a considerable majority of 63 percent of respondents experienced some sort of online security issues. But despite the frequency of these issues, just over half of them (56 percent) actually made permanent behavior changes to guard against their reoccurrence. 24 percent of respondents admitted to using unsecured public Wi-Fi, meaning that their data is effectively ripe for the picking, “quite often or all the time.” And despite the fact that 67 percent said they wanted extra layers of privacy, a very small percentage actually utilize available tools to this end.

In fact, only 16 percent use privacy-enhancing browser plug-ins, just 13 percent use two-factor authentication, only 11 percent use a VPN, and just 4 percent use anonymity software.

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More interesting still, there seems to be some sort of cognitive dissonance when it comes to the safety of physical versus digital information. As HMA discovered, though two thirds of respondents said they were likely to shred paper documents that contain personal information like their Social Security numbers, home address, and birth date, they’re more than willing to post this sort of information online. Fifty-one percent were willing to digitally share their email address, 26 percent would share their home address, and 21 percent would share their personal phone number.

“Even with the NSA revelations and a seemingly endless onslaught of celebrity hacks and public data breaches, Americans still turn a blind eye to their vulnerability online,” said Danvers Baillieu, the chief operating officer of HMA. “While many people say they want to protect themselves online, it is difficult for them to sacrifice things like their level of social presence. For too many, the gratification of a ‘like’ severely outweighs the investment in building a digitally secure life. When it comes to choosing either security or convenience, the latter almost always wins.”

 So is privacy really something we value in the U.S.? Or is just another empty promise?