Globally, more than three quarters of people worry about their personal data being stolen online
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The 2021 World Risk Poll reveals that at least two-thirds of internet users worldwide are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ worried that their personal information online will be stolen (77%), used by companies for marketing purposes without their permission (74%) or used by the government without their permission (68%).
The percentage of internet users very worried their personal information will be stolen was higher, on average, in countries where there is lower adherence to laws – as measured by the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, which is a quantitative tool designed to provide a comprehensive picture of the extent to which countries adhere to the rule of law in practice.
The Poll reveals high levels of concern about the potentially negative effects of digital technologies, particularly amongst socially or financially vulnerable groups, even as those technologies become accessible to more of the global population.
Appropriate use of personal data has enormous potential to bring benefits across the globe in many different ways. But it also comes with risk. These findings highlight the need for policymakers around the world to work with ethics experts, local stakeholders, and industry representatives to establish regulatory environments that protect vulnerable groups while allowing them to derive the full benefits of better data use.
Younger people worry more about personal data being stolen
Almost half of internet users under 50 (46%) say they are ‘very worried’ about their personal information being stolen compared with about one third (32%) of those 65 and older. These findings are important because many online scams specifically target older internet users1.
At the global level, the percentage of internet users ‘very worried’ that their personal information will be stolen varied slightly by sex and education level. Women are somewhat more likely than men to be very worried (46% vs. 42%), and people with primary education or less are more likely, at 47%, than those with secondary (44%) or post-secondary (40%) education to respond this way.
Younger people are more concerned about personal data being stolen online.
46% of internet users under 50 say they are ‘very worried’ about personal information being stolen, online compared with 32% of those 65 and older.
Financially secure people worry less about risks of personal data being stolen
There are substantial differences in how much people worry about their personal information being stolen, based on their financial security. Among internet users worldwide who say they are ‘living comfortably’ on their current income, 35% are very worried their personal information will be stolen, compared with 56% of those who are ‘finding it very difficult’ on their current income.
Even in countries with strong data protection laws, people with less financial security may have greater reason to worry about their data being stolen. Identity theft is more likely to have devastating consequences for those struggling to make ends meet if victims lose access to resources like credit, government benefits, or utility2.
People globally are concerned about personal data misuse.
More than three quarters of people worry about their personal data being stolen online.
Worry about personal data being stolen by region
Worry about personal data is most common in Central/Western Africa, South-Eastern Asia and Southern Africa, where the majority of people (62%, 61% and 60%, respectively) say they are ‘very worried’ about the theft of their personal information online.
In general, internet users’ likelihood of worrying that their personal information will be used by the government or by companies for marketing follows a similar regional pattern as their likelihood of worrying about the theft of their personal information.
More than half in Central/Western Africa (62%), South-Eastern Asia (61%), and Southern Africa (60%) say they are very worried about use of their personal information by both types of organisations, followed closely by people in the Latin America/Caribbean region (56%), and Eastern Africa (54%).
The Poll reveals that users who lack faith in their government are more likely to worry about its use of their personal information. Globally, 43% of those who say they do not have confidence in their country’s national government are very worried about its use of their personal information online, versus 31% of those who do have such confidence.
1 Elder fraud report (2020). Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center.
2 Dranoff, S. (2014, December 15). Identity theft: A low-income issue. American Bar Association.
Worry about personal data being stolen online.
When you use the internet or social media, how worried are you about your personal information being stolen?