Americans and Digital Knowledge: Many Struggle With Cybersecurity and Privacy Questions

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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 percent 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 percent) know that private browsing only hides browser history from other users of that computer, while roughly half (49 percent) 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 percent of adults answered seven or more questions correctly, and just 2 percent got all 10 questions correct.

As was true in a previous Center survey, Americans’ knowledge of digital topics varies substantially by educational attainment as well as by age. Adults with a bachelor’s or advanced degree and those under the age of 50 tend to score higher on these questions. These are some of the key findings from a Pew Research Center survey of 4,272 adults living in the U.S., conducted June 3 to 17, 2019.

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