Over 700 Million People Taking Steps to Avoid NSA Surveillance

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Bruce SchneierThere’s a new inter­na­tion­al sur­vey on Inter­net secu­ri­ty and trust, of “23,376 Inter­net users in 24 coun­tries,” includ­ing “Aus­tralia, Brazil, Cana­da, Chi­na, Egypt, France, Ger­many, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indone­sia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mex­i­co, Nige­ria, Pak­istan, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Swe­den, Tunisia, Turkey and the Unit­ed States.” Amongst the find­ings, 60% of Inter­net users have heard of Edward Snow­den, and 39% of those “have tak­en steps to pro­tect their online pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty as a result of his revelations.”

The press is most­ly spin­ning this as evi­dence that Snow­den has not had an effect: “mere­ly 39%,” “only 39%,” and so on. (Note that these arti­cles are com­plete­ly mis­un­der­stand­ing the data. It’s not 39% of peo­ple who are tak­ing steps to pro­tect their pri­va­cy post-Snow­den, it’s 39% of the 60% of Inter­net users — which is not every­body — who have heard of him. So it’s much less than 39%.)

Even so, I dis­agree with the “Edward Snow­den Rev­e­la­tions Not Hav­ing Much Impact on Inter­net Users” head­line. He’s hav­ing an enor­mous impact. I ran the actu­al num­bers coun­try by coun­try, com­bin­ing data on Inter­net pen­e­tra­tion with data from this sur­vey. Mul­ti­ply­ing every­thing out, I cal­cu­late that 706 mil­lion peo­ple have changed their behav­ior on the Inter­net because of what the NSA and GCHQ are doing. (For exam­ple, 17% of Indone­sians use the Inter­net, 64% of them have heard of Snow­den and 62% of them have tak­en steps to pro­tect their pri­va­cy, which equals 17 mil­lion peo­ple out of its total 250-mil­lion population.)

Note that the coun­tries in this sur­vey only cov­er 4.7 bil­lion out of a total 7 bil­lion world pop­u­la­tion. Tak­ing the con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mates that 20% of the remain­ing pop­u­la­tion uses the Inter­net, 40% of them have heard of Snow­den, and 25% of those have done some­thing about it, that’s an addi­tion­al 46 mil­lion peo­ple around the world.

It’s prob­a­bly true that most of those peo­ple took steps that did­n’t make any appre­cia­ble dif­fer­ence against an NSA lev­el of sur­veil­lance, and prob­a­bly not even against the even more per­va­sive cor­po­rate vari­ety of sur­veil­lance. It’s prob­a­bly even true that some of those peo­ple did­n’t take steps at all, and just wish they did or wish they knew what to do. But it is absolute­ly extra­or­di­nary that 750 mil­lion peo­ple are dis­turbed enough about their online pri­va­cy that they will rep­re­sent to a sur­vey tak­er that they did some­thing about it.

Name anoth­er news sto­ry that has caused over ten per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion to change their behav­ior in the past year? Cory Doc­torow is right: we have reached “peak indif­fer­ence to sur­veil­lance.” From now on, this issue is going to mat­ter more and more, and pol­i­cy­mak­ers around the world need to start pay­ing attention.

Relat­ed: a recent Pew Research Inter­net Project sur­vey on Amer­i­cans’ per­cep­tions of pri­va­cy, com­ment­ed on by Ben Wittes.

EDITED TO ADD (12/15): Red­dit thread.