New Oxford Uni research shows online privacy concerns growing in UK

Online privacy concept - red eyes over circuit boards

A new survey conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute has found that privacy is now one of the biggest concerns about internet users.

The Oxford Internet Institute is part of the University of Oxford and this particular research paper was sponsored by BT, Google, and the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport. It was a follow up to an original piece of research carried out in 2013 and reveals some fascinating trends about online risks.

Privacy concerns on the rise

The standout finding from the report is that concerns about the threat posed to privacy by the internet are on the rise in the UK. Interestingly, this is the case among both those who use the internet and those that don’t.

Oxford Internet Survey

The research found that 20% more non-internet users are concerned about online privacy issues than regular internet users. Almost three quarters (72%) of non-users responded that they believed the internet posed a threat to privacy.

Even more interestingly, 10% of non-users cited privacy concerns as the reason why they didn’t use the internet at all.

Among regular internet users, the result was 52%. This is still more than half of all British internet users and an increase of 5% from back in 2013.

This new report also asked about which areas people had taken action to protect their privacy in. The findings were consistent with what we would have expected here at VPNCompare.co.uk.

39% of respondents had taken steps to keep their contact details private online. The figure drops 31% when it comes to medical issues. For marital status (27%), age (27%), and shopping and purchases (26%) the figure comes in at about a quarter of respondents.

Those figures are roughly on a par with various surveys which have indicated that around a quarter of British internet users are familiar with what a VPN is and what benefits they offer.

Using a VPN to protect your privacy online

VPNs are the best tool to use to protect your privacy online. By connecting to a VPN such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN, you can be certain that all of your data is encrypted which helps to keep it secure.

VPNs also mask your IP Address by rerouting all of your internet traffic through an external server. This stops your Internet Service Provider from seeing which sites you are visiting online. It also prevents websites from identifying your true location.

When combined with the usual sensible precautions when sharing your own data online, a VPN can mitigate many internet privacy risks.

Security document

Unfortunately, for reasons best known to themselves, only around 16% of British internet users choose to regularly protect themselves with a VPN, although this figure is likely to have grown (perhaps significantly) since the most recent independent research was carried out.

But to the rest, especially the 10% of non-internet users who are not online because of privacy concerns, we would urge you to use a VPN to enable you to use the internet without putting your privacy at risk.

It is encouraging that more than half of respondents to this new survey are aware of the privacy risks that exist online. We would obviously prefer to see more people taking conscious steps to protect their online privacy but this is something that awareness will inevitably lead to in due course.

Other interesting findings

Another privacy-related finding related to targeted advertising. That is adverts that companies like Google aim at you based on analysis of your other online activities.

This research found that 68% of respondents were either uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with targeted advertising. We would probably have expected this figure to be much higher.

Away from privacy, one of the most interesting findings related to the number of people who had received malware over the previous six years.

In 2013, around 30% of respondents said they had received either malware or some other kind of computer virus online. In this new survey, the figure is just 12%. That represents a decrease of 18% over just six years.

Computer bug on screen

This finding is reflected in the level of concern over malware which has also dropped by 17% from 69% in 2013 to just 52% now.

Even more surprising, the number of respondents who said they were taking action to prevent virus was down from 76% in 2013 to just 33% today.

There could be a number of reasons for this. An increasing number of devices are now coming with anti-virus software pre-installed which means users aren’t having to take any action themselves.

Another possibility is that malware attacks are now more targeted in their nature. Although, it could also mean that attacks are more effective and therefore being noticed by users far less than they were before.

Whatever the reason, we would strongly recommend using decent anti-virus and anti-malware software online as well as a VPN. Or you could opt for NordVPN, which offers users everything in a single subscription.

Images & Illustrations © University of Oxford & Stmool | Dreamstime.com

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

David is VPNCompare's News Editor. Anything going on in the privacy world and he's got his eye on it. He's also interested in unblocking sports allowing him to watch his favourite football team wherever he is in the world.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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