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Half of Internet users (50%) say they are worried about the amount of personal information about them that is online—a figure that has jumped from 33% who expressed such worry in 2009, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project.

This concern has increased among all demographic groups, and it is especially pronounced with Internet users ages 65 and older and those living in households earning less than $30,000.

Most of those surveyed believe that key pieces of personal information about them—such as photos, email addresses, and birth dates—are available online and are easily accessible.

Below additional key findings from the report, which was based on a survey of more than 1,000 Internet users in the United States.

Masking Digital Footprints

  • 55% of those surveyed have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government.
  • 86% have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints—using strategies that include clearing cookies, encrypting emails, avoiding posting real names, and utilizing virtual networks that mask internet protocol (IP) address.
  • Despite these efforts, 59% do not believe it is possible to be completely anonymous online.

Security Issues

  • 21% of online adults surveyed have had an email or social media account hijacked.
  • 12% have been stalked or harassed online.
  • 11% have had important personal information stolen such as their Social Security Number, credit card, or bank account information.
  • 6% have had their reputation damaged because of something that happened online.
  • 6% have been the victim of an online scam and lost money.
  • 4% have had something happen online that led them into physical danger.

Privacy Expectations

  • Survey respondents said the content of email messages and the people with whom they communicate with via email are considerably more sensitive pieces of information when compared with other online activities.

About the research: The report was based on data from a telephone survey conducted in July 2013 of 1,002 US adults ages 18 and older.

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image of Ayaz Nanji

Ayaz Nanji is a digital strategist and a co-founder of ICW Media, a marketing agency specializing in content and social media services for tech firms. He is also a research writer for MarketingProfs. He has worked for Google/YouTube, the Travel Channel, AOL, and the New York Times.

LinkedIn: Ayaz Nanji

Twitter: @ayaznanji

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