Volume 21, Number 43 -- December 3, 2012

You Have The Right To Remain Online

Published: December 3, 2012

by Jenny Thomas

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" . . . And access to the Internet.

We should probably cut our Founding Fathers some slack on not including our right to surf the Web in the Declaration of Independence, but according to a new survey conducted by the Internet Society, access to the Internet should be considered a basic human right.

The Global Internet User Survey gathered responses from more than 10,000 Internet users in 20 countries to gain insight into user attitudes toward the Internet, how users manage personal information online, and the potential for the Internet to address issues such as economic development and education.

A whopping 96 percent of those surveyed said they access the Internet at least once a day, which actually seems low considering most people seem to be permanently attached to a smartphone or tablet at all times. (Think about it, when was the last time you went just one day without accessing the Internet in some fashion?) Regardless, it comes as no surprise that 83 percent of those polled said people have a right to roam the Internet.

More than 90 percent of Internet users surveyed indicated they use social media, with 60 percent admitting to using some form of social media daily, an increase of 10 percent over 2011. In addition, 98 percent of users agreed that the Internet is essential for their access to knowledge and education, and 80 percent said they believe the Internet plays a positive role for their individual lives as well as society at large.

Ranking just behind the right to go online were some ideas of what would make users increase their online usage, with connection speed (73 percent) and reliability (69 percent) ranking slightly higher than more affordable monthly fees (68 percent). Other factors included more content in their local language (50 percent) and more online availability of government and/or community services (49 percent).

The survey participants made it crystal clear they want access to the Internet, and they also were quick to point out they want it free of government interference. A relatively small 30 percent of respondents agreed strongly that censorship currently exists on the Internet, but a majority of 66 percent of surveyees said governments in countries with no Internet censorship have a responsibility to keep the Internet free of censorship in countries where the Internet is being censored, controlled, or shut down. (The tactic of cutting off citizens from the Internet was used just last week in civil war torn Syria, where president Bashar Assad's regime allegedly cut all 84 of Syria's IP addresses, removing the country from the Internet.)

Even though the survey respondents put the onus of keeping the Internet free of censorship, more than 70 percent of users believe more government involvement would make the Internet too controlled or would limit content they can access, with two-thirds agreeing that increased government control would inhibit the growth of the Internet and/or stifle innovation. (What they did not realize or know is that the Internet is itself a classic case of government involvement in development of a technology that is then commercialized.)

While most savvy Internet users are aware of the dangers that can be encountered in the wilds of the Internet, the survey revealed, not so surprisingly, that we may be our own worst enemy when it comes to protecting ourselves online. Even when users know they are sharing personal data with a site or service, 80 percent said they do not always read privacy policies, and a significant 12 percent of respondents admitted they never read privacy policies. That said, 19 percent of respondents reported they were aware of circumstances in which personal data was used in a way they did not expect. The most commonly reported consequences being unsolicited communications, stolen personal data, private data becoming public, impersonation, and financial loss.

Furthermore, of users who logged into online services, only half reported that they logged out.

The survey addressed more than personal usage, and respondents indicated they felt the Internet was also important to our global society, with nearly two-thirds saying the Internet plays a significant role in solving global problems, including reducing child mortality (63 percent), improving maternal health (65 percent), eliminating extreme poverty and hunger (61 percent), and preventing the trafficking of women and children (69 percent).

An even higher 81 percent of respondents said that the Internet would increase global trade and economic relationships, 80 percent felt it can improve the quality of education and 77 percent said the Internet can improve emergency response during a natural disaster.

Finally, a majority of respondents felt strongly that the Internet plays a significant role in making improvements to business, science, and technology. The survey found 66 percent said the Internet expands the availability of goods and services, 65 percent pointed out access allows entrepreneurs to conduct business across all countries, and 61 percent said advancing science and technology and creating a technologically recognized workforce are all benefits of using the Internet.

The complete questionnaire and results are available here.


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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Victor Rozek,
Jenny Thomas, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
Advertising Sales Representative: Kim Reed
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