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Online trust and privacy: People’s attitudes and behaviour

14 Rhagfyr 2010

Executive summary

This report provides further analysis of Ofcom's Media Literacy Tracker data, in order to understand more about internet users' attitudes and behaviour in relation to online trust and privacy. The analysis was initially presented at a joint Ofcom/Oxford Internet Institute seminar held in October 2010.

It takes as its starting point a series of key benchmark measures in these areas from the Media Literacy Tracker (these findings can be found in more detail in the Adults' Media Literacy report 2010). It then examines the relationships between these responses, in other words whether people's attitudes and their actions are linked. For example, do people that have concerns in the areas of online privacy and security do less online, shop less, etc, than the online population as a whole? Or is it confidence online that is the key differentiator in the way different people use the internet?

The analysis indicates that confidence online is more likely than concerns over privacy and security to be associated with a range of attitudes and behaviour. The less confidence an online user says they have, the less likely they are to carry out a range of activities and transactions online, the less likely they are to make checks on websites, to use such websites for transactions, etc. If an online user has concerns about security/fraud issues, or personal privacy, they display few differences in other attitudes or behaviour from the UK online population as a whole.

In other words, according to our analysis, lower levels of confidence are a greater factor in the extent of people's online activity than concerns about privacy or security.

How trust and privacy intersect

We have grouped issues relating to online privacy and trust into three main areas:

  • Confidence in carrying out transactions
  • Understanding of veracity of information sources
  • Attitudes to providing personal information

There is a spectrum of possible responses to each of these, as set out in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Spectrum of possible responses relating to online trust and privacy

A key challenge for media literacy activity is to help online users understand where they should position themselves within this spectrum - which will of course vary according to the site and source of the information. One way of describing this variation in potential response is that of the need for due trust and due confidence in these areas.

This report provides two forms of analysis:

  • Established baseline measures of people's attitudes to online trust and privacy and their related behaviour from our Media Literacy Tracker;
  • Examination of the "interrelationship" between these areas - in other words, whether people's attitudes to online trust and privacy affect their behaviour and vice versa. This was done by simple cross-break analysis, comparing particular groups to the online UK population as a whole.

Measures of online trust and privacy

Our Media Literacy Tracker asks a number of questions relating to these areas:

Confidence in carrying out transactions

  • What people are doing online
    Among internet users, there are high levels of transactions and banking - nearly three quarters say they have ever bought or sold online (73%) and over half that they have banked or paid bills online (54%).
  • Extent to which people say they are happy to enter credit/debit card details online
    Nearly half (48%) of internet users say that they have "some concerns" about entering debit card details. However, one quarter (25%) say they are happy to pay by this method, and a further quarter (24%) that they would never pay in this way.
  • Concerns about online security/fraud issues
    When we asked people who were online what concerned them about the internet, nearly a quarter (23%) say they are concerned about their own security/fraud issues online.

Understanding the veracity of information sources

  • Confidence in judging truthfulness of websites
    One in seven internet users (14%) say they aren't confident that they can judge if a website is truthful.
  • Understanding the extent to which search engine results pages provide sites that are accurate and unbiased.
    Just over half (54%) of search engine users think that some websites returned by a search will be accurate/ unbiased and some won't be - arguably a media literate response showing due trust. However, one in five (20%) thinks that the websites will be accurate and unbiased because they have been listed by the search engine, and a further one in five (18%) say they don't really think about it but just use the sites they like the look of.

Attitudes to the provision of personal information

  • Concerns about privacy online
    One in eight (13%) online users say they have concerns about online privacy.
  • Comfort in providing types of personal information
    60% of online users agree that "people who buy things online put their privacy at risk".
  • Willingness to provide types of personal details
    One third (33%) of online users say they would be happy to put photos from an evening out online, rising to 57% of those aged 16-24. Similarly, 31% of online users would be happy to post information online about how they were feeling, compared to 57% of 16-24s. While fewer - 23% - would be happy posting information about their feelings about work or college, 44% of 16-24s would be happy to do so.

Interrelationship questions and key findings

The five questions that this analysis focuses on are:

  • Is there a relationship between how broadly people use the internet and their attitudes and behaviours to online trust/privacy issues?
    The amount of activities that people carry out online has a distinct relationship with their general level of confidence as an internet user, their levels of knowledge about being online, and their claimed behaviour. However, it is not possible from this study to say which comes first - whether people engage in more activities online because they are confident; or whether doing lots of things online engenders confidence. The amount of activities that people carry out online does not seem to be influenced by their levels of concern about security or fraud or privacy issues.
  • Do people that transact online have different attitudes and behaviours to the online population as a whole?
    People who transact online are more likely to claim to be confident than the overall UK online population, and more likely to be broad users. They are more likely than the overall UK online population to carry out any checks when visiting new websites. However, levels of concerns about security or fraud, or about personal privacy, are statistically no different among people who transact online than for the overall online population.
  • Is there a relationship between "real-world" trust in others and online attitudes and behaviours?
    Online users who agree with the statement "you can't trust anyone these days" are more likely to be cautious in a variety of areas than the online population as a whole. However, they are less likely to have security concerns and are no more or less likely to be narrow or broad users.
  • Is there a relationship between confidence in judging what is truthful online and online attitudes and behaviours?
    People who say that they lack confidence in judging whether a website is truthful are far more likely to be narrow users, less likely to transact online, more likely to agree that those who buy online put their privacy at risk, and less likely to feel confident online. However they are less likely to be taking the actions that might help them to be confident, for example installing security features, or making checks on new websites.
  • Do people who say they are concerned about online privacy or online security have different attitudes and behaviours to the online population as a whole?
    People with either of these concerns are no more likely than the overall UK online population to be narrow or broad users; and there are no differences in most other attitudes and behaviour examined. While people with privacy or security concerns are more likely to have "some concerns" about entering various types of personal information, they are no more likely to say they'd "never" do it. They are somewhat less likely to transact online than all internet users. However, people with security concerns are more likely to bank or pay bills online.