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Internet Privacy: No Big Deal?

Despite warnings, users continue to post personal information on the Web

Most Internet users aren't particularly worried about how much information about them is available online, and many continue to post their personal data despite the risk of identity theft.

These are two of the conclusions drawn by a study published yesterday by the Pew Internet Project, which interviewed 1,623 Web users from a pool of 2,373 adults.

In the study, 60 percent of Internet users said they are not worried about how much information is available about them online. Only 38 percent of users say they have taken steps to limit the amount of online information that is available about them.

Roughly one third of Internet users say their email address, home address, home phone number, or employer is available on the Web. A quarter of Internet users say photos, names of groups they belong to, or signed things they have written appear online.

The Web had become a source of information about people, according to the study. Some 72 percent of Internet users have searched for contact information online, and 47 percent have typed their own names into search engines to see what has been posted about them.

About a third of users have used the Web to find out about someone's personal or professional interests, or to seek them out on a social networking site. About a third have searched for a photo, or for personal background information, the study said.

"Nostalgia seems to motivate quite a few Internet users. The most popular search target is someone from the past -- an old friend, an old flame, or a former colleague," said Susannah Fox, a co-author of the report. "One third of Internet users say they have searched for information about someone with whom they have lost touch. And one in five Internet users say someone has reached out to reconnect with them after finding their contact information online."

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