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Online privacy statistics

Paul Jarvis, co-founder Fathom Analytics

Written by Paul Jarvis

Published on: January 9th, 2020

The internet has unequivocally made us more connected than ever before. Many of us spend more time on social media networks than we do with our friends in real life (especially if there’s a pandemic).

This shift to sharing, talking and connecting online has exposed us all to an increasing number of identity theft, data breaches and our personal information being targeted and sold to advertisers.

Companies track our behaviour across multiple websites, and governments monitor what we do and where we go online. Not to mention cybercriminals working to steal our data (and credit cards) for villainous reasons. Internet privacy has become a growing concern, and rightly so. Protecting your personal privacy on the internet should be a fundamental human right.

Internet privacy statistics

Here are some interesting facts and statistics from around the internet about protecting personal data and internet privacy:

  • 53% of online citizens are more concerned with online privacy than a year ago.
  • 86% of internet users have taken steps to remove or mask their digital footprints.
  • Americans do not feel confident about the security of everyday digital tools like email, search engines (Google), and using credit cards online.
  • 47% of internet citizens admit to not fully understanding how data is collected about them online. While 76% of adults are not confident that the records of their activity, maintained by online advertisers, are private and secure.
  • 56% of millennials would share personal information or geographic location with companies or advertisers if they received something in return (like deals or coupons).
  • 19% of mobile phone users have turned off location tracking on their cell phone.

Data breach, cybersecurity and cyber-attack statistics

A data breach is any incident where sensitive or confidential information has been accessed or made public without permission. Typically these are the result of cyberattacks where criminals/hackers gain unauthorized access to company databases and then publish or sell that personal data.

  • 64% of Americans have never checked to see if they were affected by a major data breach.
  • Half of Americans are concerned about data breaches though, especially as they related to healthcare information or credit card information.
  • Wikipedia has a shockingly long list of major data breaches, dating back to 2004, and it only includes breaches with more than 30,000 records.
  • Yahoo holds the record for the biggest data breach of 3 billion accounts.
  • Cyber criminals can earn up to $2.2 million dollars through attacks by stealing only 10 credit cards per website.
  • It’s estimated that every 11 seconds, a business falls victim to ransomware.
  • It’s estimated that in the first half of 2018 alone, more 4.5 billion records were exposed due to data breaches.
  • In 2019 a single collection of data was posted online for sale including 2.7 billion identities, 774 million unique email addresses and 21 million unique passwords.
  • As of 2019, cyber-attacks are considered in the top five risks for global stability.
  • The estimated global average cost of a single data breach is $3.9 million dollars.

Habits are changing around data privacy

In a study done by PEW Research, about attitudes around digital privacy, security and surveillance, they found that:

  • 59% of internet users clear their cookies and browser history.
  • 57% of internet users refuse to provide personal information about themselves that isn’t relevant to a transaction.
  • 25% use temporary or “burner” email addresses or unique usernames for every service.
  • 24% routinely give inaccurate or misleading personal information about themselves when signing up for online services.
  • 23% decide not to use an online service if they are required to provide a real first name.

The good news about online privacy

Results from my own digital privacy survey

In 2019, I ran a survey of over 1,500 subscribers to my mailing list (with the help of a quantitative data research firm). Everyone from the survey knew and believed their data is being used, shared, and monetized without permission, but there’s a disconnect between understanding that and taking steps to protect oneself. Three reasons we identified driving that intent/action gap:

  1. It’s difficult to protect yourself online and requires too many steps or paying for additional services.
  2. The impact of privacy breaches aren’t felt frequently or severely enough to change behaviour. We can know our passwords have been saved in a plaintext file by a service we use, but unless our accounts have been actually used for bad things, it’s not concerning enough to stop using the services we’ve grown used to using.
  3. There’s a lack of transparency about what happens when privacy has been breached, so we never really know the full extent of problems because they’re hidden behind either lawyer-speak or PR jargon.

Here are some of the most interesting stats from the survey:

  • 88% of respondents are at least moderately familiar with digital privacy.
  • 70% of respondents are extremely concerned about digital privacy in general.
  • 66% of respondents feel as though they have little to no control over their digital privacy, and only * 5% feel like they have some or a lot of control over how much of their info is shared online. Respondents feel protecting their digital privacy online is extremely important.
  • 83% of respondents felt that anything they typed into the internet (via social media or email) was used to “follow them around” the internet with targeted ads.

The survey results are posted online here.

What these privacy statistics mean for us

The most important thing to remember about the internet is that it’s forever. Anything we post, publish, save or share can potentially be accessible for all time.

This is why it’s so important to take necessary steps when using the internet and signing up for online services to protect our personal data.

By using things like VPNs to connect to websites (especially on public wifi), unique email addresses for every service (so we can be aware when breaches happen and where they originated) and password managers to generate unique passwords and two-factor authenticators for every website, we can do a much better job at keeping cybercriminals at bay and our information safe. We can also do things like use a secure/private browser (like Firefox), use a privacy-focused search engine (like DuckDuckGo), and of course, a privacy-focused analytics tool (like Fathom, yes, we’re shameless!).

We can even use services like haveibeenpwned to see if any of our online accounts or passwords have been breached or compromised in any way.

Data privacy affects billions of internet users every single year. We can minimize this risk by being careful, and taking simple steps to protect ourselves, our businesses and the users of our own websites/services.

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