Most consumers worry about online privacy but many are unsure how to protect it

People have taken actions to better protect their information but feel they need to do more, according to a survey from NortonLifeLock.

Top 5 ways to protect your privacy

As consumers increasingly work and play and shop and do business online, privacy has become an area of great impact and concern. What information is being collected online? Who's collecting it? Who should be held responsible for protecting our privacy? And how do we better protect it? A survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of NortonLifeLock delved into those questions and more.

SEE: IT pro's guide to GDPR compliance (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

The survey of more than 10,000 adults in the US and nine other countries found that more than two-thirds are more alarmed than ever about their online privacy. Almost half of the respondents said their top concern was that their personal information would be exposed in a data breach and compromised by cybercriminals.

Some 40% were worried that their personal information would be sold to third parties and used without their consent. Others were concerned that their information would wind up in the wrong hands and let someone find and harm them. And some were fearful that their personal information would be used to inappropriately influence how they vote in an election.

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Image: Norton LifeLock

Despite their concerns, a full 64% of the respondents said they accept the risks to privacy to make their lives more convenient. However, that doesn't mean they're just sitting back and doing nothing to protect themselves. Around two-thirds said they've opted not to use certain apps and services solely based on their privacy policies, while a third have avoided smart home devices due to privacy concerns.

Further, a fair number of respondents have taken certain steps to better protect their privacy. Those include clearing or disabling browser cookies, limiting information they share on social media, not using public Wi-Fi, changing the default privacy settings on their devices, reading the terms and conditions before using a device or service, not using their full names on social media accounts, and enabling multifactor authentication.

Yet, there's a certain level of despair when it comes to protecting privacy. A majority (79%) of respondents said they think consumers have lost all control over how personal information is collected and used by companies. Almost two-thirds believe it's impossible to protect their privacy, while 60% feel it's too late to protect it because the information is already out there.

Still, people haven't given up. Most of those surveyed said they're seeking better ways to protect their privacy, though more than half said they don't know how. That leads to another key question in the survey—who's responsible for protecting online data?

Among respondents, 42% said they feel government should be most responsible for protecting their data by informing the public and enforcing strong privacy and data protection laws. Some 34% said they believe that companies should be most responsible by being transparent about the data they collect and how it's used and by ensuring strong data protection policies. But 24% laid the responsibility on the public by reading privacy policies and making sure they share information only with companies they trust.

Finally, most people would be willing to make certain trade-offs to better safeguard their privacy. Almost 80% said they would want to prevent companies from selling their personal information to third parties even if it meant higher costs or fewer free products and services.

The survey was conducted online by the Harris poll on behalf of NortonLifeLock from Nov. 5 to Dec. 2, 2019. Eliciting responses from 10,063 adults, the survey reached 10 countries: Australia, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, and the US.

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