07/25/06 FOX News Poll: Privacy Concerns

In a time when online banking and shopping has become commonplace for many, Americans are concerned about how to keep financial records confidential, and most say they are worried that their personal information can be found on the Internet.

Even so, people are much more likely to say they have not taken basic steps to see if their account numbers are being abused than to say that they have.

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These are just some of the findings from the latest FOX News national telephone poll of 900 registered voters conducted from July 11 to July 12 by Opinion Dynamics Corporation. The total sample has a 3-point error margin.

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Overall, more than 8 of 10 Americans say they are worried about how to keep their medical and financial records private, and although a 57 percent majority says they are "very concerned," that is down from 69 percent previously (June 2000).

The private information people are most anxious about being found on the Internet is Social Security numbers (91 percent), followed closely by credit card numbers (86 percent), financial records (86 percent) and medical records (76 percent). Furthermore, about two-thirds dislike the idea of their home address (68 percent) and phone number (64 percent) being on the Web — even though much of the time that information can be found in a local telephone book.

For the most part, these results are in line with polling conducted at the beginning of the millennium. The biggest change is found in the area of medical records: In the past, 47 percent said they were "very concerned" about their medical information making its way to the Web (June 2000). Today that is by up 11 percentage points to 58 percent "very concerned" about that information appearing on the Web.

The level of unease about personal information being on the Internet is fairly consistent among demographic groups such as gender, age and household income.

"With banks now running ads soliciting business by promising to fight identity theft, it is a wonder that levels of concern aren’t even higher," said John Gorman, chairman of Opinion Dynamics. "The use of the problem as a marketing gimmick, the proliferation of stories about government and insurance company employees losing laptops with tens of thousands of personal records, and the general computerization of everything may actually be numbing people to the problem.

"In the future it will be interesting to ask if, in fact, people don’t feel that the privacy war is over — and we lost," he said.

The majority of Americans — 70 percent — thinks there is a greater risk that their confidential information could be stolen by someone on the Internet than by someone finding account numbers and financial records in their garbage can (11 percent). An overwhelming majority (90 percent) says they shred or tear up documents that contain account numbers before throwing them away.

Despite this widespread concern, a majority (63 percent) has not checked online to see if they could find their personal information there. Similarly, those who say they check their credit report regularly are in the minority (37 percent).

People with a college degree are much more likely than those without a degree to have looked to see if their private records are on the Web (+19 percentage points), and people under age 30 are significantly more likely than those over age 65 to have done so (+31 percentage points).

Finally, a majority of Americans (57 percent) thinks it is unlikely that they are rich enough or important enough for someone to try to steal their identity.

PDF: Click here for full poll results.