Commentary

College Of Digital Knowledge? Most Americans Would Flunk

From making sense of Facebook’s app empire to various privacy matters, most Americans possess a poor understanding of the digital landscape.

That’s according to a recent 10-question quiz circulated by the Pew Research Center among nearly 4,300 U.S. adults -- which the majority flunked.

Among quiz-takers, the median score was 40%.

Among other blind spots, only 29% of respondents could correctly identify Instagram and WhatsApp as belonging to Facebook.

That’s an important finding to consider for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and others who are trying to convince the public that Facebook has become too powerful, and needs to be broken up into smaller pieces.

Further illustrating the limits of Americans’ tech-industry awareness, only 15% of respondents could correctly identify Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey.

Despite a slew of privacy mishaps by Facebook and other tech firms, most Americans still struggle with basic cybersecurity concepts.

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For example, only 28% of quiz takers could accurately identify an example of two-factor authentication (which involves confirming one’s identity using more than one “factor,” whether that be a password or a fingerprint).   

That fact might made it harder for consumers to understand new reports that Twitter targeted ads using email addresses and phone numbers, which were supposed to help protect their accounts using two-factor authentication and other security measures.

Separately, only three-in-ten respondents knew that starting a URL with “https://” means that the information entered on that site is encrypted.

More respondents (67%) knew that phishing scams can occur across multiple platforms, including email, text messages, social media or Web sites.

Additionally, 63% of respondents understand that that cookies are text files that allow web sites to track users’ site visits and activities.

Similarly, 59% know that advertising is the largest source of revenue for most social media sites, rather than things such as exclusive licensing deals (4%) or corporate consulting (2%).

Also of note, 48% of adults correctly answered that a privacy policy is a contract between websites and users regarding how their data will be used, while 45% know that net neutrality refers to the principle that internet service providers should treat all traffic on their networks equally.

Not surprisingly, the public’s knowledge of digital topics varies significantly by demographic.

For example, adults with a bachelor’s or advanced degree answered a median of six questions correctly, compared with four correct answers by those who have attended college but have not obtained a degree and three by those with a high school diploma or less.

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