Harris Poll: People Cutting Back Internet Use After Snowden

Friday, 04 Apr 2014 02:38 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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People are using the Internet less for shopping, banking, personal communications and other purposes after Edward Snowden's revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance methods, a new survey shows.

According to a Harris Interactive poll, sponsored by the security company ESET, nearly half said they have "changed their behavior and think more carefully about where they go, what they say and what they do online," The Wall Street Journal reported.

Stephen Cobb, a researcher for ESET, said that the poll shows that "we are seeing something significant here. I don't recall the Internet going backward at any other time."

According to the poll of 2,000 people, 26 percent said they are shopping online, and among people 18 to 34, 33 percent said they are doing less online shopping.

Further, 29 percent of women said they are shopping less online, as compared to 23 percent of men and an overall drop of 26 percent.

Meanwhile, 29 percent of those aged 18 to 34 are doing less online banking, and 24 percent of the 2,000 polled overall say they are less inclined to use their email.

Snowden said in March, while addressing the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, that the NSA's surveillance of telephone and Internet data has eroded constitutional protections and is "setting fire to the future of the Internet."

"The government has the ability to deprive you of rights. They have police powers, military, and intelligence powers," said the former agency contractor, who remains in exile in Russia and spoke to the Austin gathering via a live video chat.

Cobb told the Journal he doesn't think the trend of people distrusting the Internet will be short lived.

"This is historic," he said. "Twenty years from now, when people say 'do you remember those privacy issues,' the answer is going to be yes. This is on par with Watergate. We are seeing reforms and legislation emerging, just like Watergate."

The shift will also have economic effects, Cobb said. Many industries are trying to boost their electronic record keeping capabilities, and Cobb said that if people cut back on their email use, it will "put a shadow over efforts to extend the use of electronic communications."

The results also show that businesses will need to be transparent when it comes to online surveillance and privacy, which will be judged more harshly than before Snowden's revelations. Some Internet companies, such as Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. are also starting to use more encryption technology in the year after Snowden's disclosures.

"People are asking questions they didn’t ask before. To be in this place now, given the history of this industry, is just amazing. There is a level of suspicion and confusion we haven’t had before,” Cobb said.

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