Get All Access for $5/mo

Internet Users Want to Be Invisible. And They Fear Advertisers More than the Government A new report released by the Pew Research Center finds that almost all Internet users have taken steps to erase their digital footprints. Just who they are trying to avoid, though, may surprise you.

By Catherine Clifford

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Lazyfruit Pictures/Alamy

The uproar over the surveillance practices of the National Security Agency has taken center stage in Washington, but for the majority of internet users, advertisers are more feared than the government, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

Almost 9 in 10 internet users, or 86 percent of Pew survey respondents, report having taken steps to wipe away or hide their digital whereabouts. Practices include everything from clearing one's browser history to using a public computer to be able to browse anonymously. And 55 percent of survey respondents have taken actions those actions to clear their internet history to avoid specific people, organizations or the government, the report says.

Related: How to Avoid Getting Hacked (Infographic)

Unsurprisingly, internet users say their top threat online is hackers and criminals. Their second most avoided foe are advertisers, with 28 percent of survey respondents saying they have attempted to hide from advertisers online. Nineteen percent of users said they wanted to avoid people from their past and specific friends. Meanwhile, only 5 percent of respondents attribute their attempts to be covert on the internet to avoiding the government.

Even as they take steps to cover their digital tracks, however, many internet users know that in this age of hacking, nothing is really ever gone.

Related: Surge in Mobile Banking Creates a Security Gap That's a 'Wild West' for Fraudsters

"Users clearly want the option of being anonymous online and increasingly worry that this is not possible," Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet said in a statement. "Their concerns apply to an entire ecosystem of surveillance. In fact, they are more intent on trying to mask their personal information from hackers, advertisers, friends and family members than they are trying to avoid observation by the government."'

ALT TAG HERE

Internet users fret about their personal identity being uncovered online because the chances are decently high that either they or somebody they know have suffered a consequence. Here is a look at what survey respondents report having suffered:

  • 21 percent of internet users have had an email or social networking account violated or taken over
  • 12 percent have been stalked or harassed online
  • 11 percent have personal information stolen, including such their Social Security Number, credit card, or bank account information
  • 6 percent have lost money after being the victim of an online scam
  • 6 percent have had their reputation damaged because of an online faux pas
  • 4 percent have experienced physical danger as a result of online activity

The survey from Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center included responses from 792 internet users, all of whom were surveyed between July 11 and 14 on the telephone by the Princeton Survey Research Associates.

Related: How Google, Apple, Facebook and Others Use Your Personal Data (Infographic)

Catherine Clifford

Senior Entrepreneurship Writer at CNBC

Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Side Hustle

Top Secrets to Starting a 6-Figure Etsy Side Hustle That Earns Passive Income, According to 3 People Who Did It

Etsy remains a popular ecommerce platfrom for sellers — and can be incredibly lucrative for those who know how to use it.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Business News

SoftBank CEO Says AI 10x Smarter Than Humans Could Be Here in a Matter of Years

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son spoke to shareholders during the company's general meeting on Friday.

Science & Technology

The 7-Step ChatGPT Formula for Peak Productivity and Profit

With this powerful solution, you can take your productivity and profitability to new heights with ease.

Business News

Amazon Is Thinking About Charging Extra for AI Alexa

"Hey Alexa, how much are you going to cost?"

Leadership

3 Steps to Overcoming Organizational Fear of Change

It's a leader's job to ensure everyone in the company can own their expertise without fear — even when left to their own devices.