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  April 25th, 2018 | Written by

New Global Survey Reveals Growing Internet Anxiety

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  • 80 percent of internet users in North America are concerned about privacy online.
  • Survey: Over half of respondents in 25 economies more concerned about their privacy online than they were a year ago.
  • 61 percent of internet users in the Middle East and Africa feel “more concerned” than a year ago.

Nearly 80 percent of internet users in North America are concerned about privacy online, saying that internet companies are a primary source of their anxiety. This was five percent more than the year before, the latest poll data shows. The jump reflects growing concerns about data privacy and online security.

The survey was conducted by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and Ipsos, in collaboration with UNCTAD and the Internet Society.

The survey also showed that more than half of respondents in all 25 economies in the poll are more concerned about their privacy online than they were a year ago. In the Middle East and Africa, the share of those feeling “more concerned” surged from 55 percent to 61 percent.

The findings of the survey, which has been conducted four times since 2014, come at a time of intense debate related to the handling of data by digital platform owners.

“The survey underlines the importance of adopting and adapting policies to cope with the evolving digital economy” said Shamika Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s technology and logistics division.

A matter of trust

Trust in the internet varies greatly between countries. In many large emerging economies, such as China (91 percent), India (90 percent), Indonesia (88 percent), Pakistan (87 percent) and Mexico (84 percent), the largest proportion of internet users state that they have trust in the internet. By comparison, the corresponding shares in Japan and Tunisia are below 60 percent.

“Newcomers to the internet might be unaware of potential abuses and risks,” said Fen Osler Hampson, CIGI’s director of global security and politics. “Yet, this trust is essential for the successful expansion and use of e-commerce platforms and mobile payment systems in developing nations.”

Among the 25 economies covered by the survey, the general trend is that more internet users are starting to shop online. The share of respondents stating that they never buy things online dropped overall from 22 percent in 2017 to 17 percent in 2018. However, in Nigeria, Pakistan, Tunisia and Kenya, a majority of respondents still say they never shop on the web. The main reasons internet users gave for not shopping online is that they have no trust in it (49 percent) or that they have heard bad things about it (25 percent).

Lack of trust is keeping people off ecommerce platforms mostly in the Middle East and Africa, and in Latin America, suggesting that the potential gains from e-commerce are not spread evenly around the globe.

Mobile payments

The survey also showed great differences in ecommerce behavior. Using smartphones to make payments is common in many developing countries. Of the 25 economies surveyed, individuals are particularly likely to use mobile payments in China (94 percent), Indonesia (93 percent), India (83 percent) and Kenya (79 percent).

Among developed economies, the highest use is in Sweden (64 percent) while the lowest is in France (31 percent) and Japan (29 percent).

Is it worth it?

While the rapid pace of technological change creates both opportunities and challenges, most internet users in the survey (72 percent) feel that the benefits of new technology outweigh the costs. The level of agreement that new technology is “worth what it costs” is highest in Egypt (92 percent), China (90 percent), Indonesia (90 percent), India (88 percent), Kenya and Brazil (both 87 percent). Conversely, in France, only 47 percent of the internet users agreed with the statement that the benefits of new technology outweigh the costs.

The main reason that people feel that costs outweigh the benefits of new technology is that technology can result in the loss of employment.

In the survey, the most cited initiatives to manage technological disruption were government-provided training programs and skills development (42 percent), followed by greater efforts by companies to factor in social and economic consequences when designing new technologies (39 percent). A smaller share (17 percent) felt that governments should tax robots.