Microsoft’s second annual survey of Internet users around the world, released here in advance of the World Economic Forum that is taking place this week in Davos, Switzerland, shows that fifteen years into the 21st century, Internet users still think overwhelmingly that personal technology is making the world better and more vital. Large majorities of the online populations in all five developed countries we surveyed (France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the United States) and all seven developing countries we surveyed (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and Turkey) say that technology has vastly improved how they shop, work, learn, and generally get stuff done.
Compared to 2014, respondents continue to be most enthusiastic about technology’s effects on the economy and most concerned about privacy. The role of technology in transportation and literacy moved up, while technology’s ability to improve social bonds and enhance personal freedom and expression moved down. Concern about privacy jumped five points.
But overall, Internet users are experiencing:
- Accelerated Social Activism. Respondents in all the countries agree that social media has had a positive impact on social activism, with some concerns emerging especially in developed countries like France, the U.S. and Germany. Developing countries remain enthusiastic about technology opening up political expression, but their enthusiasm was more tempered this year (down 6 points).
- Better Bargains. In every one of the twelve countries, respondents say personal technology has had a positive impact on their ability to find more affordable products, including 77 percent in developed countries and 72 percent in developing countries. Even the least enthusiastic country, China, believes this at a rate of 65 percent.
- Innovation Explosion. In each of the twelve countries, respondents think personal technology has improved innovation in business, including more than three-quarters of people in developing countries. In Indonesia, Brazil, and India, more than 80 percent of Internet users think this.
- Entrepreneurial Engine. In all twelve countries, respondents think personal technology has had a positive impact on the ability to start new businesses, with Indonesia and Brazil again leading the way.
- A Burst of Getting Stuff Done. A majority of respondents in nearly every country think technology has improved productivity, with on average more than seven in ten saying so in developing countries.
While there is widespread agreement about the positive impacts of technology overall, there is also an emerging schism in the attitudes between developing and developed countries regarding how technology will affect people going forward. Developing countries express deep and genuine enthusiasm about the benefits of technology, whereas developed countries — where technology is more ubiquitous – express greater concerns about emerging issues. For example:
- Impact on Social Bonds. Fully 60 percent of respondents in developing countries think personal tech has had a positive impact on social bonds, compared to just 36 percent of respondents in developed countries.
- Sharing Economy Split. Fifty-nine percent of respondents in developing countries think technology-enabled, sharing-economy services — like Uber and Airbnb — are better for consumers than traditional services like taxis and hotels. But 67 percent of respondents in developed countries think the traditional services are better for consumers.
- In the Media We (Don’t) Trust. By a 2:1 margin, respondents in developing countries think personal technology has had a mostly positive effect on trust in the media. But in developed countries, the impression is the opposite: respondents believe by a 2:1 margin that the effect on trust in the media has been mostly negative. These opposing views are born out in the two kinds of countries’ media habits: in developing countries, 70 percent of respondents get most of their news from social media, compared to only 31 percent in developed countries.
- Getting Fit. The difference in opinion about tech’s effect on fitness is striking: 57 percent of respondents in developing economies think personal technology has made people in their country more fit, thanks to apps for diet management, calorie counting, and exercise incentives – but 62 percent of respondents in developed economies think personal technology has made people in their country less fit, because of the amount of time people waste in front of their PCs, tablets, game consoles, etc.
- The Tug on Children. In developing countries, the majority of online parents (77 percent) want their children to have more access to technology, but in developed countries, the majority of online parents (56 percent) want their children to have less access.
- STEM and Gender. Finally, there is a real split in engagement regarding the very topic of this survey: science and technology. Although large pluralities of respondents in all twelve countries believe the best jobs in the future will be in STEM, fewer than six in ten respondents in developed countries say they are interested in working in STEM, compared to 85 percent in developing countries. And while 77 percent of women respondents in developing countries feel encouraged to work in STEM fields, only a minority – 46 percent – of women respondents in developed countries do.
The schism is significant because developing countries, with their nearly unbounded enthusiasm for personal technology, represent about a 6-fold greater population overall and about a two-fold greater online population. (And almost all future growth is expected in developing nations.) Meanwhile, developed nations, with their growing concerns about technology, are encouraging technology companies to make products that don’t just work but work for them – delivering productivity and efficiency but also protecting the standards and values they love.
The Privacy Challenge. If there is one persistent concern about personal technology that nearly everybody expresses, it is privacy. In eleven of the twelve countries surveyed, with India the only exception, respondents say that technology’s effect on privacy was mostly negative.
Majorities of respondents in every country but India and Indonesia say current legal protections for users of personal technology are insufficient, and only in those two countries do most respondents feel fully aware of the types of personal information collected about them. Majorities of respondents in both developed and developing countries think that the legal rights of Internet users should be governed by the local laws of the country where the users live; that if a foreign government wants information about a person stored in a datacenter in that person’s country, they should have to seek permission from the person, not just the government; that police officers should have to get a search warrant to search for personal information on PCs; and that personal information stored in the cloud should be subject to at least the same privacy protections as personal information stored on paper.
It’s a note of caution to everyone in both technology and government: ignoring citizens’ privacy anywhere can cause peril everywhere. I encourage you to read the full survey, entitled “Views from Around the Globe: 2nd Annual Poll on How Personal Technology is Changing our Lives” by clicking here. The survey encompasses the views of 12,002 Internet users in the U.S., China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea, Russia, Germany, Turkey, Japan and France, and was taken between December 17, 2014 and January 1, 2015 by the global research-based consultancy Penn Schoen Berland.