Personal info is online currency
"There is definitely an industry built around user data," said Denelle Dixon, chief business and legal officer at Mozilla, via email. "Personal information has, in many ways, become online currency. And the system is broken because users aren't always aware of how their data is being used or transacted."
Dixon sees the need for greater transparency in the industry. "With transparency, users may become more aware of the power that they have over the entire system; users get to decide which products succeed or fail and which models work," she said.
Had Mozilla thought a bit more about this, it might not have chosen to post on Medium, which appends a tracking hashtag at the end of its URLs.
But Mozilla's advice to use different, random passwords at every website – which really requires a password management app for those who visit more than a handful of websites – is sound.
The survey also found that those who were the most knowledgeable about privacy were the most concerned about being tracked by governments and law enforcement.
Dixon said such worries are not just the product of experts playing out theoretical problems. "Concern about surveillance and tracking is realistic, even if you are completely abiding by the law," she said. "No one wants to feel like they aren't in control of their data or their online life."
Dixon argues that the same technology that created these issues can be used to address people's fears. "By making surveillance and tracking more transparent (even at a process level), everyone can enjoy the web a bit more comfortably," she said.
Complicating the security picture, some 60 per cent of respondents said they owned five or more internet-connected devices. According to Mozilla's survey, "The more devices respondents own, the less control they feel they have over their privacy."
Mozilla's findings fit with other recent surveys that reveal concern about online risks. A report published in January from the Pew Research Center found Americans doubting the government's ability to keep information safe online, even as they admitted to lax security practices. ®