Survey says people don't trust the Internet, what needs to change?

11 June 2019

More trust in the internet is needed if the digital economy is to become a viable development tool for developing nations.

Social media companies are now a leading source of user distrust in the internet - surpassed only by cyber criminals - according to a new survey of over 25,000 internet users around the globe.

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

“Knowledge is power. It’s also a datapoint,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s division on technology and logistics.

“The CIGI-Ipsos survey provides us with compelling evidence to help make decisions, shape policy and channel resources to reduce the digital divide in a way that is safe and still creates opportunities for development,” she added.

Ms. Sirimanne said more trust in the internet is needed if the digital economy is to become a viable development tool for developing nations.

A staggering 75% of those surveyed who distrust the internet cited Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms as contributing to their lack of trust.

While cyber criminals, cited by 81% of those who distrust the internet, remained the leading source of distrust, a majority in all regions (62% globally) indicated that a lack of internet security was also a critical factor.

The survey also revealed a digital divide between the world’s developed and developing economies when it came to cryptocurrencies and other new internet frontiers.

Those surveyed in Latin America and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) were nearly four times as likely to use or purchase cryptocurrencies within the next year as those in North America, Europe and the G-8 countries.

Largest internet security and trust survey

The CIGI-Ipsos survey, now in its fifth year, is the world’s largest and most comprehensive survey of internet security and trust, covering over two dozen countries across North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

“This year’s survey of global attitudes not only underscores the fragility of the internet, but also netizens’ growing discomfort with social media and the power these corporations wield over their daily lives,” said Fen Osler Hampson, a distinguished fellow at CIGI and director of its global security and politics programme.

In terms of the effects of user distrust, nearly half (49%) of those surveyed who distrust the internet said their distrust had caused them to disclose less personal information online, while 40% reported taking greater care to secure their devices and 39% said they were using the internet more selectively.

Conversely, only a small percentage of people reported making use of more sophisticated tools — such as using more encryption (19%) or using technical tools like Tor (The Onion Router) or virtual private networks (12%) — to protect themselves online.

“The survey results tell us that people around the world are increasingly concerned about their privacy and security online,” said Sally Wentworth, vice president of global policy development for the Internet Society.

“However, we also see that users aren’t utilizing tools like encryption that can help secure their communications. From keeping messages private to protecting critical infrastructure, encryption is an essential tool for digital security. It’s clear that there is more we can be doing as a community to make it easier for Internet users to secure their communications.”

The survey was conducted between 21 December last year and 10 February this year among 25,229 internet users in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong (China), India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States.

UNCTAD is increasingly focused on the development dimensions of the digital economy. The CIGI-Ipsos Internet Security and Trust survey can provide strategic insights to help developing countries design and implement good internet governance and protection policies.