Although most Americans take for granted the fact that they can go online to search, email and socialize every day, many of them don't really understand the mechanism that makes it all work.

A national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows Americans' knowledge of computers and the Internet is patchy at best. While most of the 1,066 respondents for the Web IQ Quiz showed substantial knowledge in common technology platforms and usage terms, such as Twitter and hashtags, a lot of them were also unfamiliar with a number of concepts underpinning how the Internet works.

For instance, nearly three-quarters of all participants correctly said that a megabyte is bigger than a kilobyte, and some 82 percent of all people knew that Twitter was the place where hashtags are widely used. This is despite a separate study conducted by Pew Research where it was discovered that a substantial amount of older adults did not use Twitter.

While around 77 percent are aware that sending a PDF file over email is possible and some 69 percent knew that URL stands for "Uniform Resource Locator," less than a quarter of respondents knew that there is a difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web. Thirty-four percent, or just a little bit more people, knew that Moore's Law is linked to the number of transistors on a computer chip, and less than 10 percent correctly identified Mosaic as the first web browser.

Bill Gates, however, is highly popular, with 83 percent of all respondents correctly identifying the Microsoft founder. The remaining 17 percent couldn't recognize him at all, and some 10 percent even identified him as his long-time rival and Apple founder Steve Jobs. On the other hand, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and author of best-selling non-fiction book "Lean In" is relatively anonymous, with only 21 percent being able to identify her correctly.

But perhaps, one quiz item that has major implications was the one that is about online privacy. Less than half, or 44 percent, of respondents knew that a website having its own privacy policy doesn't really mean that their data is kept private. The figures are virtually the same with the numbers posed by a study [pdf] conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center in 2003, which stated that 57 percent of American adults incorrectly believed that when a website had a privacy policy, it would not share user data with third parties.

"In terms of privacy policy awareness, we found it notable how much knowledge on this issue has not changed over the years," says Aaron Smith, senior researcher at Pew's Internet Project. "Despite all of the data breaches, news stories and policy discussions that have been happening around this issue over the last decade, Americans are not substantially more informed about this subject than they were a decade ago."

On the other hand, some 61 percent of the participants were able to correctly identify net neutrality as the equal treatment of all digital content by Internet service providers. With the Federal Communications Commission amassing some 4 million comments on the issue, it is no surprise that majority of Americans know what net neutrality is.

"It is a fairly technical issue, so the fact that many people are at least aware of the terms of the debate could be interpreted as fairly significant evidence of how much this has penetrated the popular discussion," Smith says.

The age of the respondents played a role in their scores. Younger participants (aged 18-29), unsurprisingly scored higher than their older counterparts (65+), but only in topics such as social media and common usage terms. Though younger users are more adept at identifying things such as captcha, wiki and advanced search, there is no significant difference in the participants' understanding of concepts such as privacy and net neutrality.

Those who would like to take the Web IQ Quiz can take it here.

ⓒ 2021 TECHTIMES.com All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.