What data do you encrypt? The answer may lie in where you live
Sep 16, 2020
We all have something to protect. Farmers look after their cattle, museum curators worry about their paintings, and race car drivers think about engines and brakes. What about digital positions? Do we value all data the same? That’s what we set out to find out by using Google’s search data.
For this research, we looked at searches from four English-speaking countries in the last 30 days:
- US — 114,000 queries
- UK — 22,000 queries
- Canada — 7,900 queries
- Australia — 5000 queries
All collected search queries contained questions about protecting, encrypting, securing, locking, or hiding data. Data sets from the US and the UK stood out the most. We decided against including data from Australia and Canada due to the low sample size.
The data was split into four categories: folder protection, file protection, email protection, and other. The latter includes queries about cloud storage, removable drives, etc. It's worth noting that a large part of searches in each group did not include specifics. For instance, unspecified file protection queries constitute about 36% of the US total in the category. Similarly, miscellaneous drives represent 38% of the searches in the Other category, while general email protection added up to 53% of the queries. UK users don't always specify what kind of email (61% of searches) and what drive (38%) they are looking to protect. However, only 16% of queries in the File protection category are unspecified.
The predominance of the query 'how to password protect a folder' is perhaps the least surprising finding of the research. No operating system makes locking individual folders easy, and since around 50% of computer users share their devices with other people, the need to protect folders is evident. That’s why over 36% of all analyzed search queries showed an intent to protect a folder.
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Searches for folder protection were similar among the analyzed countries, but file protection queries produced much more diversity. Overall, file protection queries constitute 36% of all the analyzed searches in the US and 41% in the UK. Also, the most-searched-for file formats in the US are PDF (21%) and Word (19%), while Excel and Zip files each make up 9% of the searches in the category. This is not what UK users are looking for. Even though queries from the UK line up in the same order, PDF, Word and Excel protection all get 24-26% of the searches. Based on the collected data, UK users didn’t search to protect photos, while these searches add up to 5% in the US.
Email is where more differences between the US and the UK appear. Attempts to find information on email protection make up 13% of all the analyzed queries from the US, but only 4% in the UK. Also, the results are more skewed in the American data, where 36% of the Email protection category includes Gmail, 8% Outlook, and 3% Yahoo. In the UK, Outlook protection adds up to 20% of the searches, followed by Gmail (19%). No UK searches contained Yahoo.
As we mentioned, this category was used to analyze data where searches included cloud provider names, removable drives, hard drives, etc. This category makes up 19% of the total queries in the UK and 12% in the US, but that’s not where the differences end. Hard drives and removable drives concern Americans more (10% and 11% of the searches in the category), while in the UK these searches combined to 14% (6% and 8% of the searches, respectively). The US users were also more concerned with Google Drive protection (12% of the queries compared to only 4% in the UK).
Here’s how data stacks up visually. Search queries from the US:
And the UK:
The research revealed a few interesting differences between Americans and the Brits. But since the data includes only search queries from the last 30 days, it’s hard to make any definitive conclusions. We’ll look to repeat this research in the future and compare the results. For instance, data suggests that US users are much more concerned about Google’s services. Compared to the UK users, they’re looking to encrypt Gmail messages and Google Drive more frequently. Perhaps Americans are worried because companies like Google often work with government agencies such as the NSA?
Another peculiar finding is related to the file protection habits of the Brits. Remember, UK users prioritize file protection more. Plus, unlike the US users, they care about protecting Word documents, Excel files, and PDF files equally (24-26% for each), compared to US users who put forward PDFs and Word documents, but mostly leave Excel documents unprotected. Is this because Brits keep more work-related data on their computers, as the Encryption habits survey has shown?
While it’s too early to answer either way, repeating this research in the future should help us answer these and more interesting questions about data protection.
Do Americans trust Google less than the Brits? Do UK users prefer using removable drives to transfer data securely instead of the cloud? What do you think? Connect with us on social media by clicking on the buttons below and let us know your theories.
Elisa’s all about languages. She speaks five, loves stand-up comedy, and is writing her first novel. Besides her extensive knowledge of cybersecurity, she’s an expert in persuasion techniques hackers use and strives to teach people how to avoid online scams.