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Most Americans Failed This Questionnaire About 10 Important Tech Topics

Although more dependent on technology than ever before, Americans don’t generally understand critical tech topics like privacy policies, two-factor authentication, or which social media apps Facebook owns.

The insights come from a survey published Wednesday by Pew Research Center, which quizzed nearly 4,300 U.S. adults about their tech IQs. The results showed that Americans were able to correctly answer multiple choice questions about phishing scams and website cookies but struggled with topics like private browsing and specifics about Facebook and Twitter.

The survey “helps us understand public awareness about the knowledge of the tech [people] are using,” said Monica Anderson, senior researcher for Pew. “We get a better concept of what digital life is today.”

The results reveal a big learning curve for privacy and security issues, which are becoming increasingly important with the rise of sophisticated cybercrime, massive data breaches, and privacy blunders. Federal and state regulators have put big tech in their crosshairs for lax security, confusing data policies, and for mismanaging of consumer information. 

And overall, Americans lack understanding of some of the most important technology topics today, according to Pew’s survey. Only 20% of adults answered seven or more of the 10 questions correctly, and a mere 2% got all of those questions right.

Education appears to play a pretty large role in how people performed on the survey. People with college and graduate degrees were more likely to do better on every question, followed by people with some college education. People with high school degrees or less education did the worst.

Younger generations knew more about Facebook, Twitter, and two-factor authentication than older generations likely because of their familiarity with tech. 

Only 29% of all respondents knew that Facebook owned both WhatsApp and Instagram, with nearly half saying they weren’t sure. 

“Even though Facebook remains one of the most popular platforms among adults in the U.S., and even though a majority of Americans use it, there isn’t that much knowledge around it,” Anderson said.

Meanwhile, 28% of Americans could correctly identify a set of images depicting two-factor authentication (a security process that requires users to provide a secondary form of verification in addition to a password ), with 55% answering incorrectly. Private browsing, which allows people to browse websites without storing history, also stumped people, with 24% percent of respondents correctly identifying it as preventing someone using the same computer from seeing previous online activities.

The study also revealed something apparently no one is very good at: Identifying Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. 

Only 15% of respondents were able to identify his picture, making it the most difficult question on survey. Most people—77%—representing the largest consensus in the entire survey, said they were unsure.

A few things most Americans understand, according to the survey, was phishing scams, website cookies, and that social media platforms are mostly supported by ad revenue.


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