computer_lock Title

Public Opinion

Although we were successful at locating many existing studies about the manner in which most users perceive their privacy online, we felt that it was important to obtain additional information about the manner in which users act online in order to present a fuller picture of online privacy policies and their impact on user behavior.

To this end, we surveyed 92 Stanford University affiliates (current students, alumni, staff, and friends) by asking them to complete an online survey (currently this survey can be found here). Because the purpose of this survey was to target our study of online privacy issues towards the concerns of those around us, we did not concern ourselves with creating an exceptionally comprehensive set of questions. Instead the survey was designed to be short enough so that subjects might be willing to fill it out despite their own busy schedules.

HypothesisTop of Page

We hypothesized that results would parallel our own personal feelings about privacy online: users are reticent to share personal information online for fear that it will be misused. At the same time, however, we believed that most users do not frequently read online privacy policies prior to providing personal information, instead, they will omit or falsify whatever information they do provide so as to minimize the potential negative repercussions. Additionally, our preliminary conversations with members of the surveyed population showed that some users see no reason to read privacy policies when they are simply reusing an online service that they safely used at least once previously.

Results Top of Page

Our study produced the following results:

Are you ever concerned about privacy whenever you are online?

Yes 83 91.21%
No 8 8.79%
Total 91

What percentage of the time do you read privacy policies?

0-20 68 73.91%
20-40 14 15.22%
40-60 9 9.78%
60-80 0 0%
80-100 1 1.09%
Total 92

What percentage of the time do you omit personal information online?

0-20 4 4.35%
20-40 17 18.48%
40-60 22 23.91%
60-80 25 27.17%
80-100 24 26.09%
Total 92

Have you ever falsified information?

Yes 66 72.53%
No 25 27.47%
Total 91

Do you know of any circumstances in which your private information has been misused?

Yes 20 21.98%
No 72 79.12%
Total 92

How often do you use an anonymizer to protect your privacy?

Always 2 2.17%
Sometimes 10 10.87%
Once 3 3.26%
Never 8 8.70%
Don't know what it is 69 75.00%
Total 92

Do you encrypt e-mail for privacy reasons?

Yes 14 15.38%
No 77 84.62%
Total 91

Conclusions Top of Page

Our survey results seemed to mirror our initial hypothesis pretty closely -- over 90% of the respondents indicated that they were concerned about their privacy when they were online. However, as we had also predicted, very few people bothered to read the privacy policies of the sites they visited. Despite the fact that 90% of our respondents were concerned about their privacy online, only 1% of our respondents regularly (80-100% of the time) reads the privacy policies of the sites that they use. However, about 75% of our respondents indicated that they have either omitted or falsified information online. Presumably, this is due to the fact that they would not be comfortable sharing with the site they were visiting. However, over 80% of our respondents don't encrypt their emails for privacy concerns and about 80% have either never used an anonymizer to protect their privacy when browsing online or have never heard of anonymizers at all. All in all, our results indicate that users are concerned about their privacy online, but take very little action to protect it beyond omitting and / or falsifying the information they provide to sites -- they don't typically read the site's privacy policy, encrypt their email or use anonymizers to protect their privacy. One of the reasons that our respondents didn't read privacy policies very often may have a lot to do with the current state of privacy policies and the fact that they are usually hard to read through -- please refer to our Privacy Policies section for more details.