A survey released today to coincide with Data Privacy Day, shows American's have strong concerns related to online privacy violations, though they aren't always very proactive in defending themselves.

One surprising data point in the survey results is that among U.S. respondents, concern over online privacy violations rated higher (25 percent) than having to declare bankruptcy (23 percent) or even losing their jobs (22 percent).

A clear majority of American respondents (79 percent) said they use anti-virus solutions to protect their privacy. But only 61 percent said that they use safe passwords and only 47 percent said they regularly delete their browsing history (though men did so more often (52 percent) than women (42 percent)). Only 15 percent of respondents said they only use software and websites that do not collect personal information.


The news comes at a time when a growing number of browser and Web developers are offering tools to help consumers better control when their online activities are tracked, if at all. The Federal Trade Commission is considering a Do Not Track measure that would allow Internet users to essentially opt out of online tracking in a way similar to the "Do Not Call" lists that limit telemarketing calls.

Research firm YouGov conducted the online survey, sponsored by browser developer Opera Software, which said more than 1,000 people in the U.S., Japan and Russia completed the survey between January 19 and January 24. The figures were weighted and are representative of all adults aged 18 or more in the three countries, according to Opera.

"It is interesting to note the gap between what people say concerns them online and what they do in practice to protect themselves," Christen Krogh, chief development officer at Opera Software, said in a statement. "We often see that it is human nature to fear traffic accidents but not wear a seatbelt or helmet, or dread bankruptcy but continue spending, and it very much seems like it is the same for online behavior."

While there have been a number of security and privacy breaches on social networks like Facebook, U.S. consumers said they were more concerned about the government monitoring their online activities (35 percent). Only 15 percent said they were wary about the data social networks collect and 16 percent said they did not worry about anyone having too much access to their online behavior.

Responses diverged among countries on the question of who should be responsible for ensuring citizen's online safety and privacy. For example, in the U.S. 54 percent said users themselves should be responsible versus only 46 and 42 percent in Russia and Japan, respectively. The results for Japan show that 47 percent believe Web companies should be primarily responsible, while only 25 percent of those in U.S. agreed. In the Russian response, 41 percent said Web companies should be primarily responsible for online safety and privacy.

Desktop computers rated higher than mobile devices on the question of which was safer for accessing the Internet. In the U.S., 54 percent said desktop computers were safer, while only 3 percent said mobile devices were safer and 31 percent said they didn't think either platform was safer than the other.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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