Data privacy: new global survey reveals growing internet anxiety

16 April 2018

2018 poll of internet users in both developed and developing countries shows varying patterns of attitudes and behaviours toward the digital economy.

Nearly half of internet users in North America are more concerned with their online privacy than they were last year, the latest poll data shows. And 79% said that internet companies are the primary source of their heightened anxiety.

The jump, recorded in a poll released today during the first day of E-Commerce Week, 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% to 61%.

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.

“Part of the challenge for policymakers is to deal holistically with a number of areas – from connectivity and payment solutions to skills and regulations,” she said.

A matter of trust

Trust in the internet varies greatly between countries.

In many large emerging economies, such as China (91%), India (90%), Indonesia (88%), Pakistan (87%) and Mexico (84%), 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%.

Fen Osler Hampson, CIGI’s director of global security and politics, said: “Newcomers to the internet might be unaware of potential abuses and risks. 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% in 2017 to 17% 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%) or that they have heard bad things about it (25%).

Lack of trust is keeping people off e-commerce 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 e-commerce behaviour.

For example, 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%), Indonesia (93%), India (83%) and Kenya (79%).

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

Is it worth it?

While the rapid pace of technological change creates both opportunities and challenges, most internet users in the survey (72%) 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%), China (90%), Indonesia (90%), India (88%), Kenya and Brazil (both 87%).

Conversely, in France, only 47% 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 programmes and skills development (42%), followed by greater efforts by companies to factor in social and economic consequences when designing new technologies (39%). A smaller share (17%) felt that governments should tax robots.

About the survey

The survey team and polled 25,262 internet users between 29 December 2017 and 5 March 2018.

The survey was conducted in 25 economies – Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong (China), India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

To see additional data from the 2018 survey and previous editions, visit