On September 5, 2013, Pew Research Center released a report detailing the results of a new survey that questioned 792 Internet and smartphone users in the United States about their desire for anonymity and issues they have faced regarding privacy and security online. The report indicates that although most Internet users may wish to be anonymous online, they don’t believe complete anonymity is possible.

The report shows that many of the respondents have taken steps to achieve some measure on anonymity online. For example 86% of Internet users said they have taken steps to remove or mask their digital footprints (e.g., by clearing cookies, encrypting email, avoiding using their name and using virtual networks that mask their IP address) and 55% of Internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations or the government. Despite these measures, however, 59% of Internet users do not believe it is possible to be completely anonymous online.

The report also asked respondents about their experiences with security and privacy issues online:

  • 21% have had an email or social networking account compromised or taken over by a third party without permission;
  • 12% have been stalked or harassed online; and
  • 11% have had important personal information stolen such as their Social Security number, credit card or bank account information.

The study reported that 68% of Internet users believe that current privacy laws do not provide adequate protection, and 50% report that they are concerned about the amount of personal information available online (up from 33% in 2009). Unsurprisingly, most Internet users expressed that having control over their personal information online is important to them.

Download a PDF copy of the report.