How Much Do We Know About The Internet? Not Much, According To A New Study, & Age Doesn't Matter

Despite spending 11 hours a day with digital media, including our smartphones, our televisions and our computers, we know surprisingly little about how these devices work. According to a new study from Pew Research, we're particularly clueless when it comes to how the Internet works, which is ironic considering our dependence on the platform to find all our answers. Surprisingly, age didn't play that big a role in determining how well survey participants fared on the 17-question quiz, though admittedly, the younger cohort did perform a bit better than their grandparents. Still, the amount that we don't know about the Internet, including what a privacy policy really means, and where and how we're actually getting our information is a bit alarming.

You can take the Web IQ quiz for yourself, and the 12-question version includes true or false questions like "The Internet and the World Wide Web are the same thing," and "When a company posts a privacy policy, it ensures that the company keeps confidential all the information it collects on users." While researchers found that most respondents could correctly identify facts about "common technology platforms and everyday Internet usage terms," like how many characters a tweet could contain, a much smaller proportion of Internet users are "familiar with certain concepts that underpin the Internet and other modern technological advances," senior Pew researcher Aaron Smith noted in his report.

75 percent of those surveyed thought there was no difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web, which is a faulty understanding, as US News explains. Whereas "the Internet refers to the infrastructure that uses specific protocols to connect various networks; the web is one application that uses that architecture to share information using web pages."

Moreover, the majority of respondents were also unsure of what a privacy policy really entails today — contrary to the beliefs of 56 percent of participants, companies do not, in fact, keep user information confidential. Rather, the majority of Internet and tech companies reserve the right to sell this data to advertisers or other third parties. But with so few willing to read the fine print, most companies can get away with collecting rather frightening amounts of personal information without users being any the wiser.

While Internet users may not be so in tune with more nebulous and somewhat removed concepts, the survey did find that most respondents were on top of their current events, with 61 percent correctly defining "Net Neutrality" as "the equal treatment of digital content by service providers." But move a little further back in history, and people were less successful at guessing the first popular graphical web browser, Mosaic (only 9 percent of respondents knew that one, don't worry).

Interestingly enough, while most survey participants were able to identify famous men in tech, with 83 percent of respondents recognizing Bill Gates as Bill Gates, and not Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, only 21 percent knew who Sheryl Sandberg was (or at least, what she looked like). Despite her status as one of the most powerful and visible women in technology, her relative lack of fame speaks volumes to the gender disparity that remains an enormous problem in the field.

While age didn't necessarily make a significant difference in respondents' scores (the youngest participants answered an average of 10.1 questions correctly, while the oldest scored 7.8), Smith found that the differences were most pronounced when it came to "social media, as well as common Internet usage conventions." But a stronger determinant for success in this particular quiz was education level, with college graduates scoring higher as a group across the board. This is generally the case with Pew Research quizzes, but even so, the gap for this particular study wasn't huge — only 12 percent of the best educated demographic knew about Mosaic, a measly 3 percentage points greater than the survey population as a whole. Smith added, "...there are some elements of the technology world on which even this highly educated group rates poorly. For instance, just one in five correctly answered that the internet and World Wide Web are not the same thing..."

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Being well-versed in Internet lingo and the details of its functionality may not seem like such a huge deal, but considering the degree to which we rely upon and trust the Internet, our smartphones and our computers, educating ourselves on some of the basics may not be such a bad idea. As Smith noted in his report, "Just because people use these gadgets a lot doesn't necessarily mean they know everything about how they work and where they came from."

Images: Pew Research; Getty Images