HANOVER, GERMANY - MARCH 05:  Workers prepare a presentation of advanced e-mail at the Deutsche Telekom stand the day before the CeBIT 2012 technology trade fair officially opens to the public on March 5, 2012 in Hanover, Germany. CeBIT 2012, the world's largest information technology trade fair, will run from March 6-10, and advances in cloud computing are a major feature this year.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Despite Increased Awareness of Encryption, Many Internet Users Think it’s Too Complicated: Report

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More than half of consumers believe that the government should be able to access encrypted files in the interest of safety, even though four out of five consider privacy to be a fundamental right, according to research released this week by Open-Xchange. The Consumer Openness Index 2016 (PDF) shows consumers have stronger opinions about privacy than last year, yet only one in five use email encryption.

While Germans are twice as likely as Americans to use email encryption, and three times as likely as those in the UK, around half of respondents in each country said that it was “too complicated” or that “there aren’t enough easy ways to incorporate it.”

The survey of 3,000 Internet users in the US, UK, and Germany showed that compared to 2015, consumers are more likely to stop using a service associated with a data breach, and the percentage of consumers who believe services like Facebook, Twitter, and Google never have the right to share user data increased.

More than three in five American and British consumers believe those companies should never share data, yet over half of German consumers believe there are cases when sharing user data is within the companies’ rights.

Read more: Let’s Encrypt Project Issues More than One Million Certificates Since December Launch

The percentage of consumers who believe they are “extremely good” at protecting the privacy of their personal data fell by 5 percent from 2015, likely indicating better public education of the challenges of data privacy. While many data privacy opinions have become stronger, uncertainty is also a major theme of the survey.

“Half of our respondents think that there isn’t a need to build ‘back doors’ to encryption, because governments will be able to access their data no matter what they do,” said Neil Cook, Chief Security Architect, Open-Xchange. “First, that isn’t true – and second, I don’t think that’s a healthy way to approach this debate.”

Open-Xchange asked four questions about government “back door” access to encrypted data. With one exception, the largest segment of respondents in all three countries to all four questions was “neither agree nor disagree,” which could indicate neutrality, but could also indicate uncertainty, as those questions did not include a “don’t know” option. The one exception is that slightly more UK respondents asked whether government back doors will enable government officials to access encrypted data “somewhat agree” (41 percent) then “neither agree nor disagree” (37 percent).

Read more: Mailbox.org Uses Open-Xchange Solution for Email Encryption

In the report Open-Xchange CEO Rafael Laguna reviews some major political and legal events coming in 2016 concerning the data privacy of those surveyed, and urges consumers to pay attention to the important decisions to be made about their data in 2016, especially in the US, where the Presidential election is a reflection of public will.

“(T)his is a year when true leadership in the data privacy debate has the potential to emerge,” Laguna said in a blog post. “It is our joint responsibility to pay attention, voice our opinions and choose the kind of future we want to live in.”

One possible precedent-setting case for encryption laws which the report does not mention was recently revealed by the New York Times; the US Justice Department is reportedly considering action to force WhatsApp to break its end-to-end encryption to provide user data to a criminal investigation.

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Chris Burt is a WHIR contributor and writer of both fiction and non-fiction. He can be found on Twitter @afakechrisburt.

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