What are current attitudes, usage and behaviour regarding the Internet?

Key findings from the Internet Society’s Global Internet User Survey, which examined Internet usage, behaviour and attitudes, are highlighted and discussed.

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/agree-terms.php?id=10055997The Internet Society (ISOC) recently published the results of a survey it conducted on Internet usage, behaviour and attitudes. The survey was administered to 10,789 Internet users in 20 countries, the majority of which are developed countries, and is considered “one of the broadest surveys of Internet user attitudes on key issues facing the Internet” (Source: ISOC).

Many of the topics covered by the ISOC survey have been discussed on ICT Pulse. Hence this post will highlight some of the survey’s key findings, and when appropriate, since no Caribbean country was included, views from either a Caribbean or developing country perspective will be shared.

The Internet and human rights

Whenever Internet users are polled on the Internet and human rights, there is generally wide consensus that the Internet should be considered a basic right, and that freedom of expression on the Internet should also be protected. This position is consistent with the findings of the ISOC survey, which stated:

  • Countries represented in ISOC survey (Source: ISOC)

    83% of respondents agreed or agreed strongly that access to the Internet should be considered a basic human right.

  • 89% agreed or agreed strongly that Internet access allows freedom of expression on all subjects, and 86% agreed or agreed strongly that freedom of expression should be guaranteed.

In our own discussion of the subject, Should Internet access be a basic right in the Caribbean?, we highlighted both the affirmative and negative of that question. Worldwide, there are a number of developed and developing countries, such as Finland, France, Mexico, Estonia, Chile, Greece and Nigeria, that have taken steps to establish Internet access as a basic right. Additionally, reference is regularly made to Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which ensures the right to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. Further, this position was corroborated by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in a 2011 report on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which is of the view that disconnecting people from the Internet is a human rights violation and against international law.

With regard to the opposing position, we noted, among other things, that many countries are still grappling with providing their citizens with even more basic needs than the Internet, such as electricity, water, health care, food and shelter. Moreover, access to and the availability of the Internet requires not only the rollout of the necessary telecoms networks, but also other supporting infrastructure such as electricity.  Hence although the majority of countries worldwide recognize the importance of the Internet to the future of their societies, many might not be in position to guarantee and protect access to that facility.

Internet and censorship

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/agree-terms.php?id=10021789Internet and censorship was a topic that we discussed in a recent post, What does the T&T Govt/Google debacle tell us about the openness of the Internet? We noted, based on Google Transparency Reports, that removal requests along the lines of undesirable behaviour/activities, or societal protection, could inherently be a way for governments to censor information or freedom of expression.

However and perhaps surprisingly, the ISOC survey found only 30% of respondents agreed strongly that censorship exists on the Internet. This response was to a general question, which did not require persons to speak from the own experience, but could reflect their own awareness of instances when content is barred online, or countries that censor certain types of content in their jurisdiction.

Online privacy and identity

Protecting your privacy and identity online has been widely discussed, and we, at ICT Pulse, have published a number of articles on this issue. Generally, Internet users want to maintain some degree of anonymity and control over their content on the Internet, and there is usually considerable discontent when popular web properties, such as Facebook or Google, adjust their terms of use or privacy policies. However, the ISOC survey found:

  • Even when users know they are sharing personal data with a site or service, most users (80 percent) do not always read privacy policies and a significant fraction (12 percent) of respondents admitted that they never read privacy policies.
  • Of users who logged into online services, only half reported that they logged out.

These results do suggest that although users might desire privacy, they are not prepared to be vigilant and to implement some basic practices.

The Internet and economic and societal issues

The majority of Internet users surveyed (at least 60%) were of the view that the Internet could play a significant role in solving or improving:

  • global problems, such as child mortality, maternal health and extreme poverty and hunger
  • global trade and economic relationships, education, and emergency response in natural disasters
  • business, science and technology.

Developing countries – many of which are facing economic and social challenges that might affect the extent to which they can satisfy the basic needs of their citizens – might generally be unwilling to reallocate what meagre resources they possess to improve the Internet access and use. Many of those countries rely on private sector (usually foreign direct) investment to develop their telecoms infrastructure, as they are unable to finance such projects. As a result, the countries might have limited control of the pace at which the networks are deployed, and to varying degrees the priority areas for access. Hence although the Internet could contribute significantly to some of the problems such countries are facing, it might not be the preferred route, when government funds must be allocated across a number of other (seemingly) more immediate imperatives.

Attitudes towards the Internet

Finally, the Internet users surveyed responded overwhelmingly that “the Internet is essential for their access to knowledge and education”, and that the Internet plays a positive role for their individual lives as well as society at large” (Source: ISOC). These views are consistent with some of the trends we have been observing within the Caribbean, such as the increased proliferation of smartphones and a growing number of Internet users. We also have a number of initiatives to increase Internet access and use, such as: the One Laptop Per Child/One Laptop Per Student/One Laptop Per Household projects, e-government strengthening strategies, along with efforts to integrate the Internet (ICT) at all school levels – not just as a subject to be taught, but to facilitate learning.


Image credits:  89studio (FreeDigitalPhotos.net);  Ideas go (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)