BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Americas
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 07:27 GMT 08:27 UK
US internet users want more safeguards
Americans worry about privacy, pornography and fraud online
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

A new study has revealed that Americans have deeply contradictory opinions about the internet, and some public policy experts say it could make Congress's job more difficult as it addresses a number of key net-related issues.

The study by the Markle Foundation found that 83% of Americans online had a positive view of the internet, but they also worried about their privacy, about the quality of information on the internet and about violent and sexual content online.

And Americans also fear that they do not share the same protections online as they do offline.

The study found that internet users in the US believe that co-operation between industries, the government and non-profits will be necessary to address their concerns.

Conflicting feelings

The study found that Americans are very positive about the internet in general, with 63% of Americans in general and 83% of those online holding a positive view of the Internet.

However, the study found that 45% of Americans view the internet as "a source of worry."

  • Some 70% of respondents said that they questioned what they read on the internet
  • Slightly more than half, 54% said that they do not believe they enjoy the same rights online as they do offline
  • And almost 60% say if they had a problem online, they would not know who to turn to.

But in addressing these concerns, the report concludes that Americans want to go beyond black-and-white distinctions between government regulation versus industry self-regulation.

Of those polled, 60% said that rules for the internet should mostly be determined by organisations other than the government, but 58% of respondents said that they do not want to rely on industry self-regulation alone.

'Digital schizophrenia'

The results of the study come as the US Congress is considering a number of bills that could have a dramatic impact on the internet.

This coincides with a study which says that a majority of Americans believe that the government should develop rules that protect internet users.

The bills Congress is debating include:

  • whether to continue the moratorium on internet taxation
  • whether and how to revamp regulations to increase the availability of high-speed connections to the internet
  • and how to protect the privacy of internet users.
Adam Thierer of the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank, said that the report in many ways muddies the waters in these policy debates. He said that Americans displayed a case of digital schizophrenia.

They want the full range of voices and interests to be heard - from the private sector and government, to non-profit organizations and the public itself

ZoŽ Baird, President of the Markle Foundation

"They obviously like this new exciting medium, but they are also cautious and curious about what is happening and wondering how accountable actors online are," he said.

But while respondents wanted some accountability, they also were also wary about the federal government creating new regulations for the internet, he added.

ZoŽ Baird, President of the Markle Foundation, said that Americans show they appreciate the complexities of the issues in regulating the internet.

"They want the full range of voices and interests to be heard - from the private sector and government, to non-profit organizations and the public itself," Ms Baird said.

Deborah Hurley, the director of the Harvard Information Infrastructure Project, said the report clearly shows that Americans expect the same rights and protections online as they have offline.

Some protections are already in place in the US, but she added: "the critical missing piece is privacy."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

03 Apr 01 | UK
E-tailers 'breaking law'
02 Aug 00 | Business
Net leaves the law behind
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories