America Online Privacy Fears Grow

During the holiday shopping season, it has become tradition for the media to report at least one breach of a major retailer’s database that exposes the private information of millions of customers. Recently, breaches of federal government databases and the computer networks of companies like Sony have caused many Americans to have second thoughts about online security.

Most people don’t change their online activity habits until some sort of security concern affects them directly. But the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) published a survey in July 2015 that just about every American is having second thoughts about online security.

The Numbers Are Striking

According to the survey, nearly 19 million American homes have experienced an Internet security breach of some kind, with the majority of breaches occurring in homes that have two or more devices connected to the same Internet source. When asked what they feared most about online transactions, 63 percent of the survey respondents said identity theft.

The interesting thing about that number is that 70 percent of the homes that had already experienced a security breach said they feared identity theft, while 62 percent of homes that had not had a breach indicated they had an identity theft fear. No matter how you slice it, Americans are fearful for their identities online.

All of this data is interesting, but how does it translate into real dollars? The truth is that 29 percent of all American consumers said that they had stopped doing any business online because of their fears regarding Internet security. The percentage of people who stopped shopping or doing business online due to identity theft fear was as high as 35 percent. This survey shows that online security is a real concern among Americans, and high profile breaches are not helping.

Corporate America Is Making It Worse

As if American fears about online security were not bad enough, the corporate world is not helping itself when it takes liberties with consumer information. According to Info Wars, Samsung and Apple are both guilty of selling voice activated data from their smart phones and televisions to third-party marketing companies.

While consumers were outraged at this policy, it does show that consumers need to be more careful when they make certain types of purchases. Samsung and Apple both include their right to sell marketing information to third parties in their service agreements that consumers are given, but that hardly helps to stem the tide of concern.

The Government Needs To Step In

The report released by the NTIA indicates that the federal government is aware that there is a significant problem with the interaction between American consumers and the Internet. While the idea of regulating the Internet is not an attractive option, the government can create policy that forces companies to better protect consumer information in the event of a breach.

There also needs to be federal regulation on the wording that goes into consumer agreements from companies such as Samsung and Apple. Many of these agreements are unnecessarily long, and they often include extra information and policies that only benefit the manufacturer (such as the third-party information exchange clause). By forcing manufacturers to create user agreements that are more accessible, the government can reduce the flow of secure consumer information into the wrong hands.

Protecting Yourself

If you are a consumer who wants to be able to utilize online services but you are concerned about security, then there are a few tips you can follow to help protect your information and avoid giving your information to criminals.

  • Always read the user agreements that go with devices that share information on the Internet. You have the option of not purchasing the device if you are uncomfortable with the agreement, or altering your online habits to prevent your information from being shared.
  • Never conduct transactions online on a website that is not secure. A secure website will start its address with “https://” instead of the traditional “http://.” The added “s” on the beginning of the address indicates a secure page.
  • Consider having a credit card that you only use for online purchases. Many people buy credit cards that must be loaded with cash before they can be used to help prevent their being any tie between the card and their personal information.

Online security is a real concern to American consumers, and it is an issue that will have to be addressed by corporations and the federal government. As more Americans lose faith in the Internet, more money is being lost by online companies. At some point, online security policies will need to change if American consumers are going to trust the Internet again.