October 17, 2019

New Report From Pew Research: “Americans and Digital Knowledge”

From the Report:

A majority of U.S. adults can answer fewer than half the questions correctly on a digital knowledge quiz, and many struggle with certain cybersecurity and privacy questions.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Americans’ understanding of technology-related issues varies greatly depending on the topic, term or concept. While a majority of U.S. adults can correctly answer questions about phishing scams or website cookies, other items are more challenging. For example, just 28% of adults can identify an example of two-factor authentication – one of the most important ways experts say people can protect their personal information on sensitive accounts. Additionally, about one-quarter of Americans (24%) know that private browsing only hides browser history from other users of that computer, while roughly half (49%) say they are unsure what private browsing does.

This survey consisted of 10 questions designed to test Americans’ knowledge of a range of digital topics, such as cybersecurity or the business side of social media companies. The median number of correct answers was four. Only 20% of adults answered seven or more questions correctly, and just 2% got all 10 questions correct.

Many Americans are unsure about a number of digital topics

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Only three-in-ten adults correctly answered that starting a URL with “https://” means that the information entered on that site is encrypted (30%). A similar share (28%) accurately identified an example of two-factor authentication. (This involves confirming individuals are who they claim to be in at least two of the following ways: inputting information only the user knows, like a password; using an outside source they possess, like a phone number or token key; or through something like a fingerprint.) A somewhat smaller share – 24% of Americans – is aware that “private browsing” or “incognito mode” only hides online activity from other individuals using the same computer. (It does not mean that the user’s activities are masked and not being captured by the websites, the internet provider, or an employer if the browsing is being done on a work computer.)

Americans’ knowledge of the business side of social media companies is also relatively low. Just 29% of Americans correctly named WhatsApp and Instagram as two companies owned by Facebook. And when presented with a photo of Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, only 15% of adults correctly identified him.

Resources

Direct to Full Text Report

Direct to Full Text Report (16 pages; PDF)

Direct to Interactive: Digital Knowledge Quiz

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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