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Study: Americans lament loss of privacy, but still share freely online

An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in BerlinAn illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in Berlin

Whether it’s a fear of government rifling through personal e-mails or corporations tracking shopping habits, Americans seem to feel that their privacy is under siege – especially online. But, that doesn’t mean we’ll stop sharing private information on the Internet.

An overwhelming majority of Americans are worried about losing control of their privacy, particularly when it comes to personal details they post on social networking sites, according to a study released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. But most people seem to find it difficult to abstain from putting their information online.

The idea that government monitors routine correspondence emerged from the realm of conspiracy theories to, essentially, a foregone conclusion after Edward Snowden leaked confidential documents detailing NSA surveillance last year. The Pew report, which surveyed more than 600 adult Americans, found that 87% of respondents had heard at least something in the news or elsewhere about the government’s efforts to monitor potential terrorist activity by gathering information about the public’s telephone calls, e-mails and other forms of communication.

What’s more, it seems that most Americans now feel that their own privacy is more or less out of their hands when it comes to the government or businesses trolling for information. The Pew study, titled “Public Perceptions of Privacy and Security in the Post-Snowden Era,” found that a whopping 91% of people surveyed feel to some degree that consumers can no longer control how companies access their personal information and how it is put to use. And, 80% of respondents either “agree” or “strongly agree” with the sentiment that government monitoring of personal phone calls and Internet correspondence is a cause for worry.

When it comes to social media, 80% of those surveyed are worried about marketers and companies getting a hold of the information they post online while 70% are at least somewhat concerned that the government is monitoring their social media presence without their permission.

In fact, the survey’s respondents felt the least comfortable when using social media sites, with 81% saying that the did not feel secure sharing private information on social media. That’s compared to 67% of people who said they feel at least somewhat secure sharing information over a landline telephone.

Still, users’ concerns don’t necessarily stop them from sharing information online. More than half of the survey’s respondents said they have shared information or posted comments online using either their real name or a screen name that is associated with them. Only 42% of respondents said they have shared information online anonymously.