If you've started to think twice about what you type into a search engine or whether you should hit that Wi-Fi hotspot, you're not alone. Literally.
A new report reveals that almost half of Americans are deliberately curtailing their Internet use due to privacy concerns, identity theft, and fears of hacking.
A study conducted by the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) based on data collected in July 2015 showed that "45 percent of online households reported that these concerns stopped them from conducting financial transactions, buying goods or services, [or] posting on social networks."
The new data shows the extent to which Americans' distrust of the Internet could affect the nation's bottom line.
"Privacy and security issues may reduce economic activity online," wrote Rafi Goldberg, a policy analyst at NTIA, in a blog revealing the study's findings. He noted that 33 percent of online households "declined to buy goods or services using the Internet" due to fears of cybersecurity, and that 35 percent "had refrained from conducting financial transactions online."
With one in five Americans the victim of an online breach in the year leading up to the study, the pervasive fear of identity theft even extends to social media and general freedom of speech online. Goldberg revealed that 29 percent of concerned users declined to "express controversial or political opinions online due to privacy or security concerns."
NTIA will continue to push for better cybersecurity, wrote Goldberg, citing a White House initiative and policy processes as examples of the agency's endeavors to step up online protection for Americans.
"NTIA will continue to analyze relevant data, as well as potential policies — such as encouraging the widespread deployment of strong encryption and other security measures — that could help build trust in the Internet and stimulate the free flow of information and commerce online," he said.