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More Americans Taking Steps to Protect Privacy Online, But Does it Matter?

By Features FOXBusiness

Call it the Snowden effect.

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New research shows that nearly 90% of Americans have taken steps to protect their privacy online.

The report from the Pew Research Center's Internet Project and Carnegie Mellon University finds 86% of Internet users have made some attempt to erase their activity online, and more than half have taken steps to avoid being tracked by people, organizations or the government.

Pew interviewed more than 1,000 adults ages 18 and up by phone.

The top way people are attempting to erase their online footprint is by clearing cookies and Web history (64%) followed by editing or deleting past posts online (41%). Respondents also said they disabled their Web browsers' cookies (41%).

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Thanks to all of the recent headlines on data breaches, tracking and hacking from the NSA to a baby monitor in Texas, Americans are beginning to wake up to the reality of how public much of their private information can be, says Adam Levin, founder of Identity Theft 911.

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"I think that a lot of people have acknowledged the fact that there is so much data out there right now, that clever people, and even not-so-clever people, can cobble that together and create an identity theft issue," he says. "The more people see the information that is out there about them, the more they will try to protect themselves."

But just because people are "trying" to diminish their online history, that doesn't mean they are successful at it, Levin says. The American public has also traditionally had a very short-term memory, he says, meaning this may be a short-lived phenomenon.

"People realize that they can't stop the past, and there is no personal delete button, but in the future when they go to different sites they know they don't need to be tracked further, and add more data to the online profile they are creating," Levin says.

Pew reports that criminals, hackers and advertisers are among the top groups people wish to protect themselves from. What's more, nearly one-fourth (21%) said they have either had an email or social media account hacked, and 11% said they have had their identity stolen.

"There will always be people who say, 'privacy is less important to me than getting a good deal, or being on the coolest site,'" Levin says. "But other people are starting to become justifiably more paranoid." 

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