How Snowden Made Us Take Online Privacy Seriously


Mar 16 2015

Nearly two years after Edward Snowden began leaking data from government surveillance programs, almost a third of American adults have changed how they use technology – though they and others could still do a lot more to protect their privacy.

Snowden, the computer analyst who worked as a contractor at the National Security Agency, began leaking classified information in June 2013 about programs that spied on Americans and on other countries through extensive phone and Internet surveillance steps.

Related: 3 Privacy Alerts When Using Personal Email at Work

The collected data included telephone records of who people called, when they called them and how long they spoke – enough to prompt some Americans to change their behavior.

Roughly a third of adults (or 30 percent) have taken at least one step to shield their information from the government, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center published Monday.

Pew lists some of the most popular actions Americans have taken in response to the Snowden revelations. People are:

  • using more complex passwords
  • changing their privacy settings on social media
  • using social media less often
  • avoiding certain apps
  • avoiding “red flag” terms online (such as “White House” or “nuclear”)

Those likeliest to have taken these steps include people most familiar with the government surveillance programs, as well as adults under age 50. Political partisanship doesn’t seem to have any impact on behavior changes, Pew reports.

Related: Snowden and NSA: A Boon to the Privacy Business

While these actions represent a good start toward privacy protection, there are other more effective actions to take as well, including:

  • using a search engine that doesn’t collect your search history
  • using email encryption programs
  • adding privacy-enhancing browser plug-ins
  • using proxy servers that can help avoid surveillance
  • using anonymity software

“Sophisticated tools and techniques are widely available and can help Americans increase the privacy and security of their online activities and personal data sharing,” noted Pew.

It also noted that so far, at least, relatively few Americans are using such privacy-protecting tools. Some excuses given in the Pew survey: “I do not feel expert enough” and “Technology changes very fast.”

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