Knowledge is Power: Does Your Digital Know-how Stand Up?

Art graphic of digital elements such as microchips, share icons, binary code, credit cards, cash, and locks.

Convenience and power. Internet services bring both. Online bill pay eliminates a tedious task. Social media can keep family ties strong or reconnect you with old friends. Streaming services bring a wealth of music, books and more.

But when it comes to digital tools, knowledge is power, and the Pew Research Center’s recent “Americans and Digital Knowledge” report found that a majority of adults in the U.S. could not correctly answer half of the survey’s 10 multiplechoice questions.

Questions touched on security and a general understanding of technology. Here are a few of the queries, edited for clarity, focused on security and privacy — good information to know. The answers do include additional context and tips not included in the report.

Q: If a website uses cookies, it means that the site …

A: Cookies allow websites to track user visits and site activity. They are common, and you are often tracked across the websites you visit.

Q: Where might someone encounter a phishing scam?

A: Phishing scams can occur on social media, websites, email or text messages. Each form of communication offers an avenue for exploitation. For additional tips to improve your online security, visit

Q: What is the largest source of revenue for most major social media platforms? (Several possible options were listed.)

A: Advertising is the largest source of revenue for most social media platforms. Often advertising is personalized to you by information gathered from not only your activities on a social media site but also your actions on other websites.

Q: When a website has a privacy policy, it means that the site …

A: Privacy policies are contracts between websites and users about how those sites will use their data. Often long and legalistic, the agreements may outline how your private information can be used to target advertising or whether or not your information can be shared with other companies.

Q: What does it mean when a website has “https://” at the beginning of its URL, as opposed to “http://” without the “s”?

A: “https://” in a URL means that information entered into the site is encrypted. Look for “https://” before completing any financial transaction on a site.

Q: Many web browsers offer a feature known as “private browsing” or “incognito mode.” If someone opens a webpage on their computer at work using incognito mode, who will be able to see their online activities?

A: Private browsing mode only prevents someone using the same computer from seeing one’s online activities. In most cases, your internet provider, including your phone wireless provider, can see all digital traffic passing from your device to the internet.

Want to see the entire report?
Do a Google search for “Pew Research Center and Americans and Digital Knowledge.”