Author Archives: Grant Blank

OxIS 2013 top-line findings: Internet use continues to grow; big increases in low-income households

Released on 1 October by the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, the Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS) 2013 Report: “Cultures of the Internet: The Internet in Britain 2013” presents data on British access, use and attitudes to the Internet since 2003. Topline findings are listed below:

Internet use continues to grow; big increases in low-income households

  • Internet use continues to grow across all levels of income. The Internet is now used by 78% of the British population, up from 73% in 2011.

  • The biggest increases in Internet use are seen in low-income households (58% of households earning less than £12,000 / year use the Internet, up from 43% in 2011).

  • The challenge of getting the last fifth of the population is growing every year: only 29% of ex-users and 9% of non-users are planning on getting Internet access in the next year; this proportion has been declining steadily since 2005. This persistent core of non-users will present a problem for initiatives such as Government ‘digital by default’ services

People are becoming more skillful; mobile and device use is exploding, but social media have plateaued

  • Devices. Use of Internet-enabled devices has increased sharply: 37% of households now have access to a tablet (26% in 2011) and 27% to an ereader (7% in 2011).

  • Mobility. Accessing the Internet on the move has also increased sharply: 57% of Internet users access the Internet while on the move in 2013 (40% in 2011; 20% in 2009).

  • Mobiles. Mobile phones are increasingly used for a range of Internet-related activities: email (54% of mobile users in 2013), Internet browsing (52%), using social network sites (43%), playing games (43%) and listening to music (43%).

  • Social media. However, social media use has plateaued at 61% of Internet users (60% in 2011).

  • Government services. 65% of users have used online government services in 2013, up from 57% in 2011.

  • Skills. People’s self-reported ability continues to rise: 74% of Internet users in 2013 rate themselves as having “good or excellent” skills (up from 60% in 2003). This is dependent on lifestage; 92% of students rate themselves this way, compared with 77% of employed, and only 49% of retired people.

Students are concerned about privacy; non-users want more government regulation of the Internet, Internet users generally don’t

The Internet is essential to media habits, and ‘more trustworthy’ than newspapers; people are meeting each other online, but many lack the necessary social skills

  • Information. 35% of Internet users say the Internet is “essential” for information, compared to 15% who say the same for television, 6% for newspapers and 6% for radio.

  • Entertainment. 20% of Internet users say the Internet is “essential” for entertainment, compared with 21% who say the same for television, and only 6% for radio.

  • Trust. Internet users trust the Internet more than newspapers or the government, but about the same as television news.

  • Social skills. 80% of students are “fairly to very confident” about their online social skills, compared with 58% of employed and only 29% of retired people.

  • Meeting people. 40% of Internet users have met at least one person online in the last year they did not know before.

Divides are narrowing, but digital inequality persists by age, education, income

  • There has been progress on narrowing digital divides, with a rise in Internet access and use for lower income groups, people with no formal educational qualifications, retired people, and people with disabilities. However, education, age, income still exert a powerful influence on Internet access and use.

  • Education. The digital divide has almost disappeared for those with any formal educational qualifications, however, those with no qualifications are still left out, with only 40% of that group using the Internet (compared with 84% with basic qualifications, 92% with further education, and 95% with higher).

  • Children. 5% of households with children between the ages of 10 and 17 do not have Internet access. Such inequality of home access is a recognised source of educational disadvantage, for which Internet use at school cannot fully compensate.

  • Income. People with higher household incomes are more likely to use the Internet. 99% of people with household incomes exceeding £40,000 are Internet users, compared with 58% of those with household incomes of less than £12,500. However, Internet use in that lowest income group has jumped to 58% in 2013 from 43% in 2011.

  • Age. Young people are much more likely to use the Internet than older people. 100% of people aged 14-17 are Internet users, compared with 85% of people aged between 45-54, and only 39% of people aged over 65.

  • Disability. People with disabilities are about half as likely to use the Internet as people without disabilities (51% vs 84% are Internet users).

  • Gender. There is no longer a gender gap in access to the Internet in Britain.

Internet users are very positive about the impact of technology; non users are generally doubtful and fearful

  • 79% of Internet users (and 44% of non-users) agree that “technology makes things better”. Students are very positive; 94% agree that technology “makes things better” and disagree that technologies “fail when you need them most” (10%) or fear that they “might break technologies” (5%).

  • Retired people are less positive: only 60% agree that technology “makes things better”, while 42% disagree that technologies “fail when you need them most” and 43% fear they “might break technologies”.

  • Fear. Non-users are more likely to express fears about the Internet or technology; making the digital divide very difficult to bridge: 59% of non-users (only 14% of users) fear they “might break” new technologies.

  • Lack of interest. 82% of non-users say they most important reason they don’t use the Internet is that they are not interested.

For quotes, please contact: Jennifer Darnley, press@oii.ox.ac.uk, +44 (0)1865 287228.

More than half of the British people who use the Internet do it ‘without enthusiasm’

[Press release – University of Oxford, 1 October 2013]

The number of people in Britain who are using the internet has risen, reaching 78% of the population aged 14 years and over as compared with 59% in 2003. Yet according to the latest survey of British internet use and attitudes, conducted by the University’s Oxford Internet Institute, more than half of those who go online do it without enthusiasm. Nearly one in six (14%) users felt the internet was taking over their lives and invading their privacy. An additional one-third (37%) of British users had no strong feelings either for or against the internet and were described as ‘moderate’ in their view. Some 17% said it made them more efficient;12% said they were happy going online; and 19% had mixed views, feeling efficient and happier but also frustrated, says the latest Oxford Internet Survey report.

The report, published today by the University’s Oxford Internet Institute (OII), is based on face-to-face interviews earlier this year with a representative sample of 2,000 internet users in Britain. One noteworthy trend highlighted in the report is a levelling off in the popularity of social networking sites with two-thirds (61%) of internet users surveyed saying they used them – an increase of only one percentage point from 2011 after explosive growth between 2007 and 2011. While most users of social network sites are under 35, there has been a substantial rise in the proportion of users aged 45-54 years old using such sites – from 10% in 2007 to 51% in 2013. People who are retired are much less likely to use them than employed people or students. Privacy has been a frequent concern on these sites, with 90% of student users saying they checked their settings, contrary to the commonly expressed view that young people no longer care about privacy.

The digital divide in Britain continues to narrow, suggests the report, with the number of people who have never gone online falling from 23% in 2011 to 18% in 2013. Trends in household use parallel individual use, with 81% of households in Britain now online as compared with 74% in 2011. The rise in the number of individuals having access to the internet is due to households acquiring it for the first time, rather than more people going online in households that already have access, suggests the research. However, television sets remain the focal point of households in Britain. Virtually all households have a TV set in 2013 whereas one-quarter (24%) of them still do not have a computer.

The survey suggests that internet use increased modestly across all age groups. The gender divide is now almost non-existent as compared with 2003 when 64% of men and 55% of women said they used the internet. Among lower income groups, during the last two years internet use has increased from 43% to 58% for households earning less than £12,500 a year, and from 65% to 88% for households paid £12,500-£20,000 a year. People in higher status jobs are more likely to use the internet, with 83% of managers and professionals using it for work as compared with just 23% of blue collar workers, says the report. Only those with no educational qualifications at all tend to be left out – only 40% of this group use the internet. Nearly half (45%) of the retired people surveyed said they used the internet, which compares with 36% in 2011. Meanwhile, 51% of people with a disability are now using the internet, a rise of 11 percentage points since 2011.

Nearly all those surveyed (98%) said parents should bear the main responsibility for their children’s experience of the internet, much the same as two years ago. However, there was a rise in the number of people who believe the government is responsible for how children experience the internet. Three-quarters of those surveyed agreed that the government should play a role in protecting children who go online as compared with 66% in 2011 and just 56% in 2007.

Lead researcher Professor William Dutton said: ‘In the past, academics studying the internet tended to focus on the digital divide, examining why certain people did not go online: whether it was to do with choice or lack of access. This study shows that a small percentage of the population (18%) still have not used the internet and it suggests that most non-users have made the choice that it is not for them. Our surveys started ten years ago, and in that time we have been able to track just how mainstream the internet has become – it is an integral part of most people’s lives in Britain today. This latest study examines in detail the variety of ways in which it is being used and the wide range of attitudes held about it.’

Researcher Dr Grant Blank from the OII said: ‘This year’s survey shows that while most of us in Britain are now using the internet, half do it without enthusiasm. These are people who use the internet because they have to, not because they want to. They don’t go online to enjoy themselves and they don’t feel more productive online. They also perceive problems, particularly with regard to privacy, frustration and wasted time. The apparent weak growth in the proportion of people using social network sites is a remarkable change from prior years. We can speculate that this is because of media coverage about privacy issues on social media sites. Or, maybe it shows that we are approaching a natural limit in the number of people interested in such sites.’

Proxy users in the UK: An overview

In general, OxIS distinguishes between Internet users and non-users based on personal use of the Internet. Internet non-users are individuals who say they do not use the Internet personally, by themselves. However, many of these individuals in fact have some indirect access to the Internet, via so-called proxy Internet users. Proxy Internet users are individuals who (for example) go online to send an e-mail, or find information on someone else’s behalf. OxIS differentiates between two levels of proxy Internet access. First, we ask non-users whether they have a proxy user available, and then, whether they have activated a potential proxy Internet user in the past year. Below, I review the characteristics of Internet non-users who engage in indirect Internet use.

Since 2005 there has not been much change in the proportions of non-users who have a proxy user available to them (‘proxy use available’ line in the graph below), as well as in the proportions of non-users who have engaged in proxy Internet use (‘proxy use activated’ line). About 70% of non-users report having access to proxy Internet use, whereas only about 20% of non-users have actually activated a proxy user. The stability in proxy use availability and activation is interesting, since from 2005 to 2013, the proportion of non-users declined from 32% to 18% of the British population. Thus, we would expect that a larger proportion of current Internet non-users would have a potential proxy user available to them.

Caption

Use of the Internet by proxy has been increasing slightly.

The graphs below do not show a clear picture of the role of individuals’ demographic characteristics in activation of proxy Internet use. Gender does not seem to be important, as about 30% of both men and women report indirect Internet use. Similarly, employment status does not have a clear relationship with proxy Internet use. Interestingly, in 2013 unemployed non-users were most likely to activate proxy Internet use. By contrast, some level of education and high income increase the likelihood of proxy use activation.

Age is an important factor of proxy Internet use activation. While in 2009, middle-aged non-users were somewhat more likely to engage in proxy Internet use, in 2013 the relationship clearly reversed. Over half of non-users aged 25 to 44 activated a proxy user, whereas this proportion drops to 20-30% for non-users aged 45 years or more. There are much bigger differences between 2009 and 2013 in younger age groups than in older age groups. This instability is related to a fewer number of non-users in younger age groups.

Caption

Young people are the most likely to be proxy Internet users in 2013.

The graphs below do not show a clear picture of the role of individuals’ demographic characteristics in activation of proxy Internet use. Gender does not seem to be important, as about 30% of both men and women report indirect Internet use. Similarly, employment status does not have a clear relationship with proxy Internet use. Interestingly, in 2013 unemployed non-users were most likely to activate proxy Internet use. By contrast, some level of education and high income increase the likelihood of proxy use activation.

 

Caption

People with higher education and higher income are more likely to be proxy Internet users.

There is also no difference between urban and rural non-users; a bit less than 30% of both groups report indirect use of the Internet. However, the graph below provides evidence that non-users from a higher social class are more likely to have indirect access to the internet; non-users who have high socio-economic status and work in manager and professional occupations are more likely to report proxy use activation. Interestingly, presence of children in the household does not seem to be important for explaining proxy internet use activation, although the last graph shows that children often act as proxy internet users.

Caption

Most commonly, proxy Internet access is gained via family members and friends. This pattern has not changed since 2009 when we first asked non-users about specific groups of people that help them with indirect Internet use. Children and grandchildren are the most common sources of proxy Internet use, with over 60% of non-users reporting their help. This is followed by friends, partners or spouses, and siblings. Internet non-users tend not to seek proxy Internet users in libraries or Internet cafes.

Caption

Finally, it is also important to understand the characteristics of Internet users who report helping others to use the Internet; these individuals may also be more likely to act as proxy Internet users for people who do not go online themselves.

In 2013, 41% of Internet users reported helping someone else use the Internet in the past year. Those Internet users are more likely to be young; over 50% of users aged 14 to 34 years have helped others use the Internet. Moreover, they are more likely to be students, to have higher education, and high income levels.

Caption

The ways in which Internet non-users engage in indirect internet use is an under-researched area of digital divide studies. This overview suggests that socio-economic characteristics are not only important determinants of who are internet users and non-users, but that they also determine indirect access to online services. Finally, the gap between non-users who report they have a proxy user available (about 70%) and those who actually use the internet via a proxy (about 20%) is huge. Further research is needed to explore the reasons why only one in five internet non-users engage in indirect internet use.

Should government regulate the Internet more? Most Internet users say no; most non-users say yes

Internet regulation has become an increasingly controversial topic as governments have sought to deal with issues arising from the growing centrality of the Internet and the perceived risks to children and other important segments of the public. While users are subject to existing laws and regulations, such as laws against consumer fraud and product misrepresentation, many feel that laws written for a pre-Internet world fit poorly in the online environment, and are difficult to enforce across national boundaries.

Part of the debate is over where the Internet needs new regulatory approaches. Between 2011 and 2013 there appears to have been no change in support for more government regulation of the Internet amongst British Internet users (43% in 2011 vs 44% in 2013), but a sharp rise amongst non- and ex-users (67% in 2011 vs 79% in 2013). Such a rise in support is evident across several demographic groups, with only students showing greater resistance towards government intervention (19% supported more government regulation in 2013, compared to 26% in 2011).

Non- and ex-users, with less personal experience online, are the most susceptible to calls for greater regulation of the Internet, as are retired people, who have steadily backed more government regulation of the Internet.

Caption

Social network site use plateaus at 61% of Internet users

Social network sites transformed the online experience for many people. However, while these sites have experienced years of explosive growth, growth in the proportion of users seems to have levelled off in the last two years, with the major growth in the use of social network sites occurring from 2005 to 2011. It is no longer reasonable to suggest those not on social network sites are simply unaware of them; without a disruptive innovation it is unlikely that we will see significant growth by the next survey. What we are seeing is a plateau of the diffusion curve as social network site use reached about two-thirds of the Internet population in the UK.

Caption

Social network sites have become part of popular culture. Everyone knows what they are and what they can be used for, so people who are not using them are likely to be doing so by choice. This raises all sorts of questions. Why the sudden stability at about two-thirds of Internet users? Why are the attractions not appealing to those who are not using them? Have users been put off by journalistic coverage of privacy concerns on social media sites? Were social network sites something of a fad that has now peaked, or have we reached some natural limit of the number of people interested in social media?

Why have some people stopped using the Internet?

In 2013, 3% of British people reported being ex-users of the Internet. This is a slight decrease 2011 when 5% of the population were ex-users of the Internet.

Caption

There is no one reason why people stop using the Internet. Perhaps most striking is the rise in the number of people who are just not interested in using the Internet, with 61% of ex-users giving this reason for their ex-Internet use (lack of interest is also the main reason cited by non-users for not being online). No longer having a computer available, and cost, remain important reasons for more than half of ex-users (57% and 52% in 2013, respectively). However, both of these reasons are less important than in 2011.

Interestingly, finding the Internet difficult to use has become a more common factor this year, possibly reflecting growing complexity of access with the rise of more devices and modes of access. Also, privacy issues (28%) and bad experiences (15%) have become more prominent among the reasons cited by ex-users. Given the small number of ex-users in our sample, it is difficult to generalise confidently about this rise in the proportion citing privacy concerns and bad experiences online, but both are plausible reasons for people moving off-line.

Caption

“Lack of interest” has become the most important reason why ex-users stopped using the Internet.

 

Looking at ‘lack of interest’

When asked for the single most important reason they stopped using the Internet, ex-users mainly indicated lack of interest (41% in 2013), followed by reasons related to lack of resources (‘too expensive’ 24%; ‘no computer available’ 10%) or skills (‘too difficult to use’ 8%).

Caption

The single most important reason why ex-users do not use the Internet is that they are Not Interested.

The rising importance of lack of interest may reflect a decline in the proportion of young people who are ex-users (assuming that young people are more interested in the Internet than old people): in 2011 the age category with the most ex-users was 25–34-year-olds, in 2013 the most ex-users are in the 45–64-year-old age groups.

Caption

Older people are the most likely to be ex-users of the Internet.

Are ex-users happy?

What do ex-users feel about having given up on the Internet? 37% of ex-users in 2013 said they would like to use the Internet in the future, 31% said that they missed out by not using the Internet, 19% sometimes felt left out when their friends talked about the Internet, and 14% thought they could perform better in their daily tasks if they used the Internet. Compared to 2009 the most striking difference was a decline in the proportion of ex-users who would like to use the Internet in the future, from 60% in 2009 to 37% in 2013. This suggests that the population of ex-users is becoming more comfortable with not being online. They are less likely to be offline due to moving house or changing a job and more likely to have gone offline by choice. This is consistent with the earlier graphs showing lack of interest as the main reason ex-users are offline.

Caption

Ex-users tend to feel that they are “better off not using the Internet”.

Understanding the geographical variation of Internet activity across Britain

Britain has the largest Internet economy in the industrial world (measured as a percent of GDP; 8.3% in 2012), and the Internet is an increasingly important part of British society and economy. Social life is increasingly mediated and influenced by online interactions that take place through email or social media.

However, despite the inportance of the Internet both for British society and the future of the economy, there remains a major area about which little is known: the geographical variation of Internet use and online participation across the UK. This is true both for both policy-makers and scholars. Although the Office of National Statistics (ONS) produces regular reports on the British population and economy, it produces nothing about the Internet that is more detailed than reports on the 12 official regions. Even Ofcom produces little beyond broadband penetration reports. Similarly, scholarly work (Blank and Reisdorf 2012; Blank 2013) is mostly at the level of the UK as a whole.

Geographical data is crucially important because there is evidence of major geographic inequalities in access and use (e.g. Internet use in Scotland is 20 percentage points below the East Midlands). Government support for organisations like Go ON UK (and its predecessor Race Online 2012) signals that it understands the importance of mitigating digital inequalities in order to promote growth and employment. But policy currently can do little about local-scale geographic inequality because there are almost no data on the geography of the Internet. Currently no one knows how Internet use differs between Edinburgh, Manchester, London, or Cardiff. Outside of Ofcom reports about broadband penetration (an important, but limited topic), no government, private or scholarly entity has local-level geographic data on the Internet.

As part of an OII project looking at the geography of digital inequality, we will combine data from existing datasets to produce the first dataset with detailed estimates of Internet use. Specifically, we will combine the OxIS survey with the 2011 Census for England and Wales, the Scotland Census 2011, and several special-purpose datasets on important metrics of Internet use and participation (e.g. tweets, Wikipedia articles, photo uploads). This will give us a rich dataset with hundreds of measures of Internet use that we can analyze at any desired geographic level, including wards, counties (or Welsh and Scottish Councils, or Unitary Authorities), or cities.

More specifically, we intend to investigate the geography of several types of use. First is simple use or non-use of the Internet. However, we recognise that there are many ways of interacting with, using, and communicating through the Internet. We will also examine online buying and selling, social networking, banking and finance, information and entertainment seeking, politics, and communication. Multiple uses suggest greater intensity of use, which we can investigate by looking at the amount of time spend online. The Internet is a unique medium in that it allows ordinary users to create and distribute content; we will therefore explore online content production in the form of blogs, personal websites, uploading music or videos, and others.

Our research will begin with descriptive statistics and maps of the geographic distribution of uses. We will then move beyond descriptive work to multivariate, inferential studies that predict the geographic inequalities in digital Britain; using spatial statistical analyses we can examine the relative importance of issues like broadband use, technology attitudes, trust in e-commerce, or Internet experience as predictors of geographic stratification.

References

Blank, G. (2013) Who creates content? Stratification and content creation on the Internet. Information, Communication & Society 16 (4).

Blank, G., and Reisdorf, B.C. (2012) The participatory web: A user perspective on Web 2.0. Information, Communication & Society 15 (4).

Internet users are very positive about technology; non-users are generally doubtful and fearful

Internet users remain disproportionately likely to be young, well educated, and wealthy. Consistent with these patterns, attitudes toward technology are positive among students, the employed, and Internet users generally. Non-users and the retired have more negative attitudes toward technology. One of the barriers to bringing non-users online is the fact that over half of them express fears about the Internet or technology.

When we look at lifestage, we can see relatively large differences in technology attitudes between students, employed people, and retirees on a number of dimensions. For instance, students are very likely (94% in 2013) to agree that technology makes things better, compared to 75% of employed respondents, and 60% of retirees. Students are also more likely to leave their mobile turned on in bed (83%, compared to 68% of employed respondents and only 32% of retirees). Students are somewhat more likely to agree that CCTV cameras threaten privacy (51%) than their working (36%) or retired (32%) counterparts. Retirees are the most likely to fear breaking new technologies (43%, compared to 15% of employed respondents and only 5% of students), and to feel that technology fails when it is needed (42%, compared to 16% of employed respondents and 10% of students).

Caption

Non-users have a less positive attitude toward technology than users. Non-users are much more likely to fear that they might break new technologies (59%, compared to 14% of Internet users in 2013) and to feel that technology fails when it is most needed (59%, compared to 15% of users). Non-users are also correspondingly less likely to think that technology makes things better (44%, compared to 79% of users), and to always be connected by doing things like leaving their mobile phone turned on while in bed (37% of non-users, compared to 67% of users).

Caption

Internet users tend to have much more positive Internet attitudes than non-users.

Why do some people not use the Internet?

Non-use of the Internet has declined substantially over the past two years. In 2013 about 18% of the population had never used the Internet, compared to 23% in 2011. This five percentage point decline in two years is about the same as the five percentage point decline in the four years from 2007–2011. This is real progress in addressing the digital divide, but nearly one in five remain without access, making the digital divide a continuing issue even at the basic level of access.

Caption

Internet use has climbed to 78% of the British population.

There is no single reason people give for for not using the Internet; reasons are multiple and interrelated. Cost, access, interest and skills are all important; moreover, their relative importance varies across individuals and their circumstances.

Many non-users are simply not interested in being online. In fact, nearly all non-users cite a lack of interest as one reason for not being online. Retired people also give “not for people my age” as a major reason, but that is very similar to lack of interest. Retired non-users were also more likely than employed non-users to cite lack of a computer (70% vs 59% in 2013), and lack of knowledge (67% vs 57%) as important reasons for not using the Internet. There is an element of choice at work here: lack of interest suggests that many people choose to remain offline. There is no evidence that they are opposed or resistant or restricted from going online, rather the Internet is not important to them: they just don’t care.

Caption

Non-users say that the reason they don’t use the Internet is that they are just not interested.

Are people getting better at using the Internet?

The percentage of Internet users with good or excellent self-rated Internet use skills has steadily increased from 60% in 2003 to 74% in 2013. Self-rated ability still varies by lifestage and gender, however, compared to 2011 the gap between men and women has shrunk from 12 percentage points to 7 percentage points (in 2013: 77% vs 70%). By contrast, big differences between individuals at different stages of their lives persist: students (92%) are more likely to say they are confident of their skills than are employed (77%) and particularly retired people (49%).

Caption

OxIS measures Internet user’s confidence in performing important online tasks such as uploading photos and making new friends. Confidence in different types of skills varies considerably between individuals at different stages of their lives. A large majority of students feel fairly or very confident they can perform creative, critical and social (all above 80% in 2013) activities online. Students are more confident than employed and much more confident than retired individuals in all four skills types. The biggest differences are in creative (95% vs 69% vs 33%) and social (80% vs 58% vs 29%) skills.

Interestingly, 72% of retired individuals feel confident in their critical skills, whereas only about one third of them trust their creative (33%), social (29%) or technical (34%) skills. Similarly, the largest percentage of employed individuals feel confident about performing critical activities online (82%).

Caption

Internet skills are one of the few areas where there remains a gender gap. Men are more confident than women. This is true not just in expected areas like technical skills, although that is where the gap is the largest (25 percentage points), but also in social skills where there is a 16 percentage point gap. This large gap is a little surprising. One might expect women to have more confidence in their social skills than men.

Caption

Across all Internet skills men are more likely to say they are skilled than women.