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Summary:

Data from the Internet Society’s Global Internet User Survey shows that we’re contradictory when it comes to our feelings and actions taken online. This won’t come as a surprise to most, but we think the Internet is a source of good, yet we don’t trust it.

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Most people view the internet as a place of free-flowing information where people go to learn, develop their business opportunities and can share scientific discoveries. It’s a place where passwords can be shared among family and friends and people don’t use services to cloak their identity, yet it is also where almost half of us lie about relevant personal information. All of this and some other contradictions have emerged from the Internet Society’s Global Internet User Survey.

The Internet Society is an organization that tracks the use and influence of the web and releases policy recommendations associated with online access. For its annual survey it asked more than 10,000 people in 20 countries their thoughts on a series of questions. The results in some cases were surprising. For example, the U.S. had the highest percentage of people who never used audio/visual conferencing online, with 56 percent saying they never used services like Skype or WebEx. Globally, only 27 percent said they never used an IP-based web conferencing tool.

U.S. respondents also were the second most likely to avoid instant messaging, with 42 percent of Internet users saying they didn’t use an IM service compared to 16 percent globally. Only Germans were less likely to use IM — 47 percent said they don’t use instant messaging services. And while a majority of the respondents were concerned about their online privacy and took some steps to control access to their online profiles or turning off location tracking on occasion, a surprising large percentage did little else to safeguard their data or to preserve their legal rights.

For example, even when users know they are sharing personal data with a site or service, four out of five users do not always read privacy policies and 12 percent never read privacy policies. Only 47 percent of the respondents reported that they always use separate passwords for sensitive data, and only 13 percent said they never share permissions with family or friends.

Maybe we hope to mitigate some of our trusting nature by giving out false information — more than half of those surveyed give incorrect personal data when creating an account at least some of time. But, a staggering 44 percent say they always provide correct personal data. Apparently we are large and contain multitudes.

A good example of this can be found in the chart below, which compared the U.S. response on two questions with the global average and three other countries. When asked if the government should ensure people’s right to access the Internet, the U.S. was surprisingly reluctant to agree with that statement when compared to the rest of the surveyed countries. Yet, like most other people, the U.S. sees the Internet as a source of knowledge. Apparently we recognize that the internet is awesome, but aren’t willing to ensure everyone has access to it.

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  1. I am not all that surprised by any of these finding, to be honest. It is not contradictory to see the good and use of the Internet, but be aware of the fact that there are individuals out there ready to make negative use of anything they can get a hold of. The discussion of the ridiculous complexity and length of privacy and use policies, both on-line and for software in general, has been discussed for a long time. Reading all these policies in detail leaves you with only 2 options: either limit yourself to about 10% of the services available (which would mean all those companies shooting themselves in the foot as they reduce their own customer-base) or stop any other activity I perform in a day so that I can spend that time on reading those policies. Neither makes any sense, and since those texts are in legalese, most people wouldn’t understand what they are reading in any case.

  2. And that leaves the fact that in the US more people feel they have a right to something, but panic anytime the words social services is used.

    None of this should stay the way it is… but I think the problem is less in how people act based on what is out there, but that too much still a gray area with no clear rights and responsibilities laid out, either for the user or the provider.

  3. I think so long as people continue to ensure we only Trust those who who have an interest in exploiting Their Own – whilst making sure we never listen to anything said by someone who has no motive to deceive us (you gotta watch for that maniacal and illogical desire which we all know exists in everyone who PROFITS when they offend or hurt our imaginary feelings), then everything will turn out just fine.

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