Commentary

One In Three Americans Changed Online Behavior Because Of Surveillance

The revelations of widespread government surveillance by NSA contractor Edward Snowden may have dominated public discussion, but they didn't have much impact on how Americans actually use digital technology. That's the conclusion of a new Pew study based on a survey of 475 U.S. adults, polled about their use of technologies including mobile devices, social media, and email, among other channels.

There is no question that most Americans have heard about government surveillance in the wake of Snowden’s leak of secret documents: 87% of respondents said they have heard “a lot” or “a little” about the surveillance, and only 6% said they have heard “nothing at all,” about them (the elusive “living under a rock” demo).

However, just 39% said they are concerned about monitoring of search engines, 38% said the same for email, 37% were concerned about monitoring of cell phones, and 31% were worried about monitoring of social media apps.

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Similarly, just 34% of Americans who said they were aware of the surveillance reports have taken any steps to shield themselves from surveillance by the government, including 17% (of the group who were aware of surveillance) who have changed their privacy settings on social media; 15% who said they use social media less often; 15% who have avoided using certain apps, and 13% who have uninstalled apps; 14% who said they speak more in person instead of communicating online or by phone; and 13% who avoid using certain terms in online communications.

In addition, 18% have changed the way they use email, 17% changed their use of search engines, and 13% have changed the way they use text messages.

Not surprisingly, people who said they knew “a lot” about the government surveillance (31%) and younger adults under age 50 were more likely to have changed at least on of these behaviors (40% versus 27%).

3 comments about "One In Three Americans Changed Online Behavior Because Of Surveillance".
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  1. Matthew Ford from SwipeAds, March 23, 2015 at 4:50 p.m.

    Is the author serious? 1 in 3 is a huge effect. And keep in mind that changes in online behavior are likely to be things that sap the digital economy. This is big news.

    When I saw the headline 1 in 3, I thought, wow, that's a bigger effect than I'd have guessed, this is a major finding.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 23, 2015 at 6:10 p.m.

    It would be interesting to see what steps---if any---were actually taken because of fears about government spying. If this question had been asked, most likely many of those claiming such "actions" would have fumbled for an answer.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 24, 2015 at 8:48 a.m.

    I agree with Ed. The dependent measure is "did something" -- a vague check-all-that-apply outcome that frustrates serious analysis. I might have preferred a "how worried are you" item on a 7-point scale. Don't bother going to the Pew page. The summary percentages there conflate "very concerned" with "somewhat concerned" -- an old trick to boost the total. Never let the facts get in the way of a journalistic hook.

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