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Online privacy worries increasingly keeping Americans off the internet, study says

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In an age of digital insecurity, it no longer seems to hold that we’ve nothing to fear but fear itself. Already, Americans have cited cyberattacks as their No. 2 most pressing cause for concern, with only ISIS perceived as a larger threat. And now, a sobering new survey from the United States Department of Commerce suggests that Americans are so worried about the lack of privacy online that it’s actually deterring them from using the internet. Does this mean the hackers have won?

According to the Commerce Department’s survey, which polled 41,000 American households, almost half of respondents cite privacy and security fears as rationale for no longer partaking in the online community. Users say they refrain from posting to social networks, expressing their opinions online, or even taking part of the booming e-commerce industry.

“Every day, billions of people around the world use the internet to share ideas, conduct financial transactions, and keep in touch with family, friends, and colleagues,” Rafi Goldberg, a policy analyst at the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, wrote in an introductory blog post for the data. “But for the internet to grow and thrive, users must continue to trust that their personal information will be secure and their privacy protected.”

Shockingly, survey results show that almost 20 percent of respondents were personally victimized by identity theft, a digital security breach, or another cyber-problem. When asked what they were most concerned about in terms of online safety, almost 66 percent responded with identity theft, and almost half cited credit card or banking fraud.

“NTIA’s initial analysis only scratches the surface of this important area, but it is clear that policymakers need to develop a better understanding of mistrust in the privacy and security of the Internet and the resulting chilling effects,” the agency wrote. “In addition to being a problem of great concern to many Americans, privacy and security issues may reduce economic activity and hamper the free exchange of ideas online.”

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