Americans say they’re shopping less online. Blame the NSA.

(Charles Dharapak / AP)
(Charles Dharapak / AP)

Nearly a year after former government contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the nation's spying apparatus, Americans haven't really changed their online habits, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

More than half of about 2,000 people surveyed by Harris Interactive who were aware of the revelations about the National Security Agency said they don't think more carefully about where they go, what they say or what they do online. In fact, 57 percent of those surveyed said they think government mass surveillance helps prevent terrorism.

Does this mean that people have shrugged off the news or just embraced it as a fact of life in the post 9/11 era? Not quite.

There's one trend that could be a little bit worrisome to online businesses: More Americans say they've cut down on their online shopping and banking since the last time the company conducted a poll in September.

It's not as if the majority of Americans have suddenly abandoned Amazon or gone back to paper transactions. But people are more skeptical of sharing information online. The poll didn't factor in the effect of recent data breaches, though, which may have played on Americans' minds more than the NSA. Target, Neiman Marcus and several other retailers were hit by data breaches during the holiday season, and hackers stole millions' of customers' payment information.

"Any sign of slowdown or contraction in the use of the Internet is interesting,” said Stephen Cobb, senior security researcher at ESET, a security company who analyzed the findings.

Last year, 14 percent of Americans said they shop less online, Cobb said. Now that share is up to 26 percent. Millennials were more wary than other groups when it came to online habits. That's not too surprising considering this age group uses technology the most.

E-commerce is considered a reliable area of growth for the retail industry, so the findings -- while relatively small -- aren't insignificant.

Americans may not have changed their habits much in response to the NSA revelations, but they've changed their attitudes. More than two-thirds felt that technology companies had violated their trust by providing the government information. Sixty percent said they were less trusting of these companies in general.

Silicon Valley giants including Microsoft, Yahoo and Google have disclosed that the government plied them with surveillance requests. Those firms have since taken harsh stands against the extent of U.S. spying and made an effort to be more transparent. Despite Americans' broken trust, though, 52 percent still said tech companies should cooperate with the government in its efforts.

The major takeaway from the poll is that people weren't happy about being lied to, but as long as they know what's going on, they'll learn to live with it.

Amrita Jayakumar covers federal government contracting for Capital Business, The Post's local business publication.
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