Three surveys say a lot ... most of it bad news

Surveys show that although people distrust Internet interactions they continue to leave themselves unprotected

A "State of the Net" survey released last week by Consumer Reports makes clear that Americans continue to have ample cause to distrust Internet interactions ... yet many remain woefully ignorant in terms of protecting themselves - and their children - from the most obvious dangers.

The combination has cost consumers US$7 billion over two years, according to Consumer Reports.

The sweeping study does include nuggets of good news, however, including a contention that less spam is hitting consumer inboxes. No one asked me.

Among the findings:

  • Computer viruses have prompted 1.8 million households to junk their PCs over the past two years, while spyware has claimed another 850,000 machines in just the past six months.
  • Not surprisingly given those numbers, 17 percent of PC users lack virus protection and a third of respondents fail to guard their machines against spyware.
  • Extrapolating from the survey results, some 650,000 people have bitten on a spam-promoted product or service offerings over the past six months, a figure to keep in mind next time you wonder why spammers even bother.
  • Five percent of those surveyed who have children under the age of 18 report that their kids have inadvertently been exposed to pornography through spam, while the Consumer Reports press release made no mention of how many kids opened smutty spam on purpose.
  • While lawmakers continue to hound MySpace 24/7, we learn that not all parents are worried sick over the notion that Junior or Missy may be divulging too much 411 online: Among respondents whose kids go online, 13 percent of the youngsters registered on MySpace failed to meet the site's 14-year-old age minimum, and 3 percent were younger than 10. As the press release notes: "And those were just the ones the parents knew about."
  • 89 percent say ban texting while driving

Finally, something about which roughly nine in 10 Americans can agree: Text messaging while under the influence of an automobile ought to be against the law.

You generally can't get nine in 10 Americans to agree on the day of the week, never mind a change in the law - and never ever mind a change in the law that would have a direct impact on them.

Of course, those nine out of 10 are not exactly practicing what they preach at the moment, as 57 percent of those who drive and also send text messages admit to doing the two simultaneously. If you're talking about merely reading text messages, that number jumps to a full 6 percent.

The survey of 2,049 adults was conducted by Harris Interactive.

The state of Washington this spring became the first to ban texting while driving and some half-dozen others have similar legislation pending. Expect Congress to act soon.

Ask and ye shall ...

So how do you get a secret username and password out of an IRS employee?

Turns out you need only ask.

A government inspector called 102 IRS folks, claimed to be in need of help solving a computer problem, and asked for their username and that they temporarily change their password to one suggested by the inspector.

Sixty-one complied.

These people know all there is to know about our personal finances, yet seem incapable of locking a door.

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