Cyber crime, Facebook and fake news top reasons for users distrusting the internet, survey shows

Almost half of those who are suspicious of the web say their sentiment makes them disclose less personal information online

Social media companies emerged as the leading source of user distrust in the Internet, surpassed only by cyber criminals, according to a new global survey. AFP.
Social media companies emerged as the leading source of user distrust in the Internet, surpassed only by cyber criminals, according to a new global survey. AFP.

Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter are the biggest reason that users distrust the internet after cyber criminals, according to a global survey.

About three quarters of those surveyed who are suspicious of the internet, cite the social media giants, while 81 per cent point to cyber crime and 62 per cent blame a lack of internet security, according to the 2019 CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust. The survey results highlight growing concern among people around the world about their privacy and security online.

"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 Hampson, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (Cigi) and director of its Global Security & Politics programme.

The research findings comes amid heightened scrutiny over the practises of tech and social media companies in the US and globally fuelled by concerns among competitors, policymakers and consumer groups that the companies have too much power and are harming users and business rivals.

The survey, conducted by market research company Ipsos, was commissioned by Cigi, the charity organisation Internet Society (Isoc) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad). The study, now in its fifth year, surveys more than 25,000 internet users in more than two dozen countries across North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

Eight out of 10 people surveyed are uneasy about their online privacy, with over half more worried than they were a year ago – marking five consecutive years of the trend.

Less than half believe their government is doing enough to protect their online data and personal information, with the lowest confidence levels in North America and the G8 countries.

Indeed, citizens are increasingly viewing their own governments as a threat to their online privacy, with 66 per cent attributing their concerns to domestic authorities than to foreign governments.

Increasing concern about online privacy and security is prompting people to change their behaviour when using the internet.

About half of the users surveyed who distrust the internet said their sentiment has caused them to share less personal information online, while 40 per cent were careful to secure their devices and 39 per cent used the internet more selectively.

Only a small percentage said they used sophisticated tools such as encryption or VPNs to protect themselves online.

Also fuelling distrust of the internet is the spread of fake news, with most blaming it on Facebook, according to the study.

About 86 per cent said they had fallen for fake news at least once, with 44 per cent saying they sometimes or frequently did.

About three quarters of Facebook users say they had personally seen fake news there, followed by 62 per cent of Twitter users and 74 per cent of social media users in general.

This led 10 per cent of Twitter users and 9 per cent of Facebook users to close their accounts in the past year as a direct result of fake news.

One-third blamed the US as the country most responsible for the disruptive effect of fake news in their country, followed by Russia and China. The majority of internet users globally support government and corporate efforts to combat fake news.

The survey also highlighted the digital divide between developed and developing economies in terms of cryptocurrency adoption.

Users in Latin America and the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are nearly four times as likely to use or purchase cryptocurrencies within the next year as those in North America, Europe and the G8.

"We need more trust if the digital economy is to become a viable development tool for developing nations," Shamika Sirimanne, director of Unctad's division on technology and logistics, said.

In other digital frontiers, the study showed that nearly seven in 10 people familiar with blockchain believe the technology will affect every sector in the economy, that it should be implemented as widely as possible (67 per cent), and that it will have an impact equivalent to the advent of the internet (67 per cent).

Updated: June 11, 2019 11:53 AM


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