Pew: Most Americans Don’t Understand Privacy Policies

According to a survey, most Americans think privacy policies protect their personal data, even though they often do the opposite.

How well do Americans understand technology and the Web? That’s a question Pew Research set out to answer with a “Web IQ” quiz doled out to over 1,000 U.S. Internet users. The quiz covered everything from recognizing Bill Gates (a question Americans fared well at) to defining Moore’s law (a question Americans did not fare so well in). Here’s a look at how respondents managed:

privacy policies

Interestingly, 61 percent of Internet users know what “net neutrality” means, (thanks, John Oliver), while only 44 percent are savvy when it comes to privacy policies. Most Internet users assume that a company with a privacy policy does not share the data it collects. However, a privacy policy can easily state that it does share user data — but who reads them anyway? Users seem to see the words “privacy policy” and think they mean “we keep your data private.”

Most respondents were familiar with Internet usage terms like kilobyte vs megabyte, “captcha” and “wiki.” Even though most Americans don’t use Twitter, they are familiar with the platform’s features like hashtags and its 140 character limit. Twitter can thank traditional media for that.

However, only 23 percent of respondents were aware that the terms “Internet” and “World Wide Web” do not mean the same thing. From Pew:

The Internet is architecture and protocols that allow computers to communicate with each other and the Web is one of the applications that uses Internet architecture to give users access to web pages on computers connected to the network.

Other unsurprising findings include that young people are more social media savvy, and those with higher education tend to know more about Internet and technology.