Whether the temptation is too great or a reflection of humans’ natural nosiness, creeping and peeking on co-workers is shockingly common. Three out of of four employed Americans admit to creeping, or checking out someone else’s computer screen, a recent HP study, conducted as part of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) revealed.

By exposing what HP dubs consumers’ “secret behaviors,” the survey was designed to analyze how human behavior impacts business and personal decisions and demonstrates the need for online personal privacy to evolve. Data isn’t being stolen outright, but an invasion of privacy is a kind of hacker attack.

Additionally, 73% admit to peeking and looking at unclaimed documents in shared office printer trays; 73% also creep on co-workers’ computer or phone screens.

SEE: Mastermind con man behind Catch Me If You Can talks cybersecurity (TechRepublic download)

And, whether they know it is in their own human nature or cynical suspicion, 83% of all Americans worry about and actually restrict what they look at in public, because they’re concerned about what others’ might see on their screens. Given how quickly someone can be exposed on social media, it is unsurprising, as demonstrated by a recent viral TikTok, in which someone took a photo of a guy perusing Porn Hub on a public computer at the library.

Peeking on someone else’s screen at home, work, or on a commute is far more common than thought, divulged the HP survey, which was comprised of 3,000 general consumers, and 1,500 office workers across Canada, the UK, and the US.

Americans, it appears, want to keep their personal things personal, worry about what others who see what they’re looking at think, and yet eight in 10 admit to having a difficult time looking away from someone else’s screen when the opportunity presents itself. Nearly 50% of respondents admit to publicly looking themselves or catching others looking at “not safe for work” (NSFW) content.

On the job, nearly 50% of office workers, when printing something personal, rush to the printer before a co-worker can see it. Perhaps this paranoia is validated, because despite benign intent, one in five people creep when they believe they might gain from it.

Office workers are opportunistic, as 44% admit they would look at, make a copy, take a photo, or take the actual document in the printer tray. An unhealthy work environment is the result of the distraction (from work) of having to protect privacy. Further, eight in 10 say they hide their screens from co-workers, four in 10 feel they can’t look at what they want because a co-worker might see their screens, and they get nervous when a notification pops up while they show their co-workers their screens. One in three workers are likely to creep during an office meeting, and half are likely to creep while walking in the office.

Online hackers are, understandably, a concern, for seven to 10 Americans, and 73% are resigned to be compromised at least once. Americans (65%) are the most worried about their personal information being compromised (64% of Canadians and 61% of UK respondents share the concern).

A shocking 76% of Americans (80% of UK ) believe their information, without their knowledge, has already been shared with a third party. While some 38% of those in the US, 39% in Canada, and 37% in the UK say they would feel more violated if someone leaked their browsing history, than if their credit card information was leaked. Similar responses were given to a variant of the question; they would feel more violated if their Google searches were revealed than their credit card info.

The concern is real: 82% of Americans believe their privacy can be compromised, and that someone might be able to get personal information by just looking at their screen.

SEE: Special report: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The survey also revealed that Gen Z are the most self aware–they’re the biggest creepers, and the most aware of the risks. And it’s strangers who people worry about looking at their screen (73%). They worry less about their significant others (19%), despite the fact that 54% of strangers are likely looking at their screen, but a whopping 80% of significant others’ are.

And the deep concern for protecting personal privacy is becoming increasingly more difficult say 77% of Americans, and 84% of U.K. respondents.

Most respondents feel defenseless against creeping and peeking behavior, and look for computer and printer manufacturers to help them control their privacy with built-in security features. A majority (78% of consumers) say they would purchase a computer with better security features (such as HP’s Webcam Kill Switch, Sure View, and Secure Print, which can be found on HP Spectre and HP ENVY laptops. Most respondents (72%) wish they could push a button which would prevent others from seeing their screens, and (66%) want laptop manufacturers to make it more difficult for others to see their screens.

Is nowhere safe from creepers and peekers? One in three are likely to creep on public transit and at home, six in 10 on airplanes, and three in 10 while waiting in line. Six in 10 say they can’t help it, five in 10 credit “natural curiosity,” four in 10 do it “for fun” and for connection (i.e. how similar are their lives to mine?), while only two in 10 suspect devious behavior.

So look into ways of positioning your computer at work or into privacy software because, let’s face it, your co-workers can’t help themselves.

Image: iStockphoto/DGLimages