Web users worry about prying businesses, survey says

By Barbara Ortutay
Associated Press / June 5, 2011

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NEW YORK — It’s not Big Brother, but “big business’’ that Internet users are more worried about.

A new survey found that nearly half of Internet-connected Americans age 16 and older worry about businesses checking what they do online. By comparison, 38 percent worry about the government doing so.

Not that those concerns are stopping people from using the Internet for shopping, social networking, and a smattering of other activities.

The latest study from the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California found that 82 percent of Americans use the Internet, the same as in 2009.

On average, they spend more than 18 hours a week online — for browsing the Web (79 percent), for banking (47 percent), and for social networking and video-sharing (46 percent).

In the decade that the Digital Future researchers have been tracking Americans’ Internet use, social networks were born, and many of them all but died. People have gotten used to migrating more activities online and accessing the Internet from more devices.

“When we started our work 11 years ago, the Internet was almost completely PC-based. We used to compare it with TV,’’ said Jeffrey Cole, the center’s director.

People would use the Internet — dial-up service, back then — the way they watched TV: sitting down in front of the screen for 30, 60 minutes at a time.

Not any more.

“We think PCs are slowly going away’’ except for the heaviest users, such as those using it for computer-assisted design, editing, or heavy writing, Cole said. “Wireless, mobile Internet is becoming the Internet for most people.’’

Among other findings in the survey, conducted from April 27 to Aug. 30, 2010:

■ Of the 18 percent of Americans who are not using the Internet, 7 percent cited cost as a reason.

■ 21 percent of nonusers said they were excluded from communications among their friends and disadvantaged in obtaining information for work, studies, or hobbies as a result of not going online.

■ 68 percent of adult Internet users go shopping online. Books and gifts are the most popular categories.

■ People are still worried about privacy when shopping online, though fewer respondents said they were very concerned or extremely concerned than the year before: 48 percent compared with 54 percent in 2009.

■ E-mail is still nearly universal. Even the texting generation uses this somewhat antiquated method of communication: 98 percent of Internet users under 17 said they e-mail, compared with 95 percent of those aged 18 to 24.

The latest survey of 1,926 people aged 12 and older has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.