Author Archives: Grant Blank

Children and the Internet: parental attitudes and rules

Children’s regulation shows trends that appear contradictory. Although the percentage of parents establishing rules about Internet use is declining, parents also are increasingly installing filtering software. However, opinions about the assignment of responsibility for protecting children are stable: respondents overwhelmingly think parents should be responsible.

Few people believe that children’s content should be unrestricted, and the vast majority continue to lay the primary responsibility for this with parents (98% in 2013), as well as by Internet Service Providers (81%) and teachers (78%), and increasingly by government. Whilst there has been little change in attitudes towards the role of ISPs and teachers in 2013, there seems to have been a rise in support for government intervention, with 75% of respondents agreeing that government should be responsible, compared to 66% in 2011 and 71% in 2009. This has been reflected in government initiatives aimed at protecting children from inappropriate content.


When it comes to placing restrictions on children’s Internet use, 57% of parents in connected households claimed to have done so. Child protection groups are likely to view this as a disappointing statistic, possibly indicating that parents with children are not as concerned as the general public, and do not see as great of a risk. Alternatively, it could be that efforts to make parents more aware of online risks are not reaching all families who could benefit. Parents with children between the ages of 10 and 13 were most likely to report restricting use in some way (64% of households with children in 2013), perhaps reflecting the growing online skills combined with continued vulnerability of this age range.


For connected households, the most commonly set rules advise children not to meet people they meet online or to give out personal information (both 84% in 2013). In both cases though, the prevalence of these rules seems to have dropped somewhat since 2007, when comparable percentages were both 95%. The proportion of parents restricting online time and restricting access to certain sites also seems to have declined since 2007: time restrictions have dropped from 88% to 81% of households, site restrictions have dropped from 93% to 78%. This may be a consequence of greater use by children at home and with friends, making restrictions more difficult to enforce. On the other hand, there appears to be a slow but steady upward trend in the adoption of parental control filters, rising gradually from 35% in 2007 to 44% in 2013.


Is the Internet a threat to privacy? Almost half of British Internet users say “Yes”

Journalistic coverage of privacy issues has mushroomed and there is a generally high level of concern about privacy. In 2013 almost half (47%) of Internet users said they were concerned that the use of computers and the Internet threatens privacy.


Despite this, about 70% of Internet users are comfortable giving out their email address and name online, and about 50% are comfortable giving out their postal address and date of birth. This might be surprising in light of media coverage of the threats of credit card theft and identity theft, but is not necessarily contradictory, as users generally trust Internet service providers and benefit from people finding them online. However, they do illustrate the complexity of privacy issues. It might be that the experiences of users have been generally positive, finding that e-commerce and online shopping, for example, work well and are reasonably low risk; many activities of value, such as shopping, would not be possible without the ability to trust a provider with certain information, such as your name and address.


How much time do British people spend online?

British people spend an average of 11.3 hours per week online at home; this has been roughly stable since 2007 (average 10.9 hours a week at home). By contrast, use of the Internet at work has decreased from 7.3 hours per week to 5.5 hours per week over the same period. Use of the Internet at school has not changed since 2007.

In 2013, we added the category of using the Internet ‘on the go’, and users indicate spending over two hours per week online when they are mobile. The continuing centrality of the home and the rise of Internet use on the go are two clear trends to note and watch for in 2015.


Total hours spent online. This is a number everybody wants, but one that we don’t supply. Why? There is a measurement problem. We find that people are very bad at accurately estimating the amount of time they spend, whether it is time spent on social network sites or total hours spent online a week. This is quite apart from the problem that people may not actually realise they are online, for example when when using certain features on a mobile phone. We don’t think the numbers that other organisations collect are accurate or reliable measures.

Effectiveness of Internet use varies hugely by income, lifestage, and education

Benefits from use of the Internet appear more likely to accrue to people with higher household incomes. That pattern exists across all four benefits measured here: saving money, finding out about an event, finding health information, and finding a job. This raises the interesting question, why are lower income people less likely to realise benefits from Internet access? Do they have fewer opportunities presented to them? Are they using the Internet less effectively?


In terms of lifestage, over 50% of all three lifestage groups (ie students, employed and retired) are likely to have saved money or found out about an event via the Internet. However, students and employed people are more likely to have done so compared to retired respondents. Employed (45% in 2013) and retired (39%) people are more effective than students (32%) at finding information to improve their health, perhaps because they are more focused on their health as they age. Employed people (34%) are much more likely to have found a job compared to students (16%) and retired people (3%). Except for finding health-related information, retired people are the least likely to benefit from the Internet.


Regardless of the benefit considered, people with more education are more likely to take advantage of that benefit. The effect here is very strong. People with a university degree are more than twice as likely to be able to benefit from Internet use compared to people with no education. In the most striking case, compared to people with no educational qualifications, respondents with a university degree are over seven times more likely to have found a job using the Internet (36% vs 5% in 2013). This echoes research on the ‘knowledge gap’—a finding that even when presented with the same information, people from more educated households are likely to benefit more, and thereby reinforce or exacerbate knowledge gaps in society.


Most Internet non-users have a link to the Internet via a proxy user

Almost 90% of ex-users and almost 70% of non-users said they have a link to the Internet if they need it, but their access is indirect via another, proxy user. Proxy access may not be quick access or high quality access—depending on someone else means going online at their convenience—but it can make the Internet accessible to many who would otherwise be offline completely.

These issues are important as the UK government embarks on tests of a “digital by default” strategy. Given the value of personal assistance, one critical problem in addressing the digital divide remains focused on helping more isolated non-users who could not otherwise find a proxy user, or get the help they require to move into the online world.


Almost 90% of ex-users and 72% of non-users have access to the Internet via proxies.

Although a vast majority of ex- and non-users claim to have proxy access to the Internet, in 2013 only about a third of them reported actually having asked proxy users for help in the past year. This suggests that proxy users could play an important role in bringing the Internet experience to non-users by offering their help explicitly.


Only about one-third of non-users or ex-users asked a proxy for assistance.

Almost half of people with disabilities don’t use the Internet: but why?

While disabilities, such as health-related problems, are a continuing source of digital exclusion, OxIS 2013 shows that over half (51%) of British people with a disability use the Internet. This is a rise of 15 percentage points from 2007. Unfortunately, 51% is still considerably less than the 84% of non-disabled respondents who use the Internet, leaving a major digital divide for the disabled.


Disabled people are much more likely to not use the Internet.

However, this is a broad question and many disabilities would not influence ability to use computers or the Internet. When we ask respondents specifically whether their disability limits their ability to use computers we get a different result: for people who say the disability limits their use of a computer or the Internet, there is no difference between the percentage of users versus non-users. This suggests that disability is not a major issue for Internet use.


There is no difference between Internet users and non-users when we control for whether their disability limits their use of a computer.

How likely are ex- and non-users to get online in the future?

There is a steadily declining likelihood that ex-users will get Internet access in the next year. In 2013 29% of ex-users were planning access compared to 52% in 2005. However, in 2013 ex-users are still much more likely to plan to get Internet access than non-users (29% vs 9%). This indicates that the challenge of getting the last fifth of the population online is growing every year, as the people who were most positively disposed to become users have already done so. The offline population seems to be growing less interested in Internet access. This suggests that organizations like the Tinder Foundation and Go ON UK will find it increasingly difficult to persuade non-users to go online.


Use of online government services is increasing, but still presents a problem for many

Use of the Internet has been positively associated with involvement in politics and government. With respect to governmental activity, public engagement with digital government is continuing to evolve, and more and more services are moving towards easier online provision. Moreover, the entire population is potentially in need of one or more governmental services that are increasingly digital. Therefore, we expect that over time, an increasing proportion of the public will use government services provided online, what is increasingly called ‘digital government’ or ‘e-government’ service delivery.

In the UK, as in many other nations, the take up of digital government has been slow, although incremental advances have been made year on year. There are many reasons for this, but it is a particularly difficult arena for services that are not accessed often, sometimes once a year or less, and that involve tens of thousands of individuals interacting with thousands of services at all levels of government. In contrast, banking services can involve millions accessing only a few services, such as looking at their account balance.

In 2013, there was a significant advance from 2011 in the take-up of digital government services in the UK. 65% of Internet users said they had used at least one of a set of government information and service delivery applications in the past year. This represents a continuing increase since 2005 when we began to track uptake of electronic service delivery by government. It is also a substantial increase from 2011, when 57% said they used at least one service. Whether the rise in up-take since 2011 indicates having reached a critical mass that will enable growth to continue at a faster pace will be a key issue to look for in the 2015 survey.


What digital government services are being taken-up by Internet users? We asked users to indicate whether or not they used each of a number of services over the past year. Our list was not comprehensive, but was indicative of the range of services available. The most general observation is that there was an increase in every service we listed. There seems to have been a strong increase over 2009 and 2011 in every aspect of digital government. More users are getting information about government online, and more people are paying for services and fines online. The most dramatic increase is in paying a central government tax, licence fee or car tax disc online, where the proportion more than doubled from 2011. This means that transactional services, where the payoff of digital government could be great, are succeeding, as well as more information-centred services, such as getting information about your local politician. This suggests that not only are users adapting to digital government services, but also that government service delivery is improving in ways that make it easier and more efficient for individuals to complete transactions online.


Ex-users and Reasons for Not Using the Internet: Life Stage and Occupation

The reasons why ex-users stop using the Internet change over time. The graph below tells an interesting story. In 2005 the majority, 40% of ex-users said that they are just not interested in using the Internet. This reason was followed by about 35% saying they have no longer a computer available and that the Internet is too expensive for them. In 2011 we observed a very different pattern, with over 60% of ex-users indicating the Internet is too expensive for them, and over 50% saying they no longer have a computer available. Again, we see that nowadays ex-use of the Internet is related to physical constraints more than it used to be in the past. Other reasons such as worrying about privacy and viruses or not figuring out how the Internet works, stayed stable over time at around 15%.

Reasons ex-users stopped using the Internet

Next, we are interested whether different ex-users have diverse reasons for not using the Internet anymore. So, we look at reasons by life stage.


Reasons ex-users stopped using the Internet by lifestage

In addition to life stage we compare reasons for stop using the Internet by occupation.  Ex-users with managerial and professional occupation are distinct by stating that they no longer use the Internet since they do not have access to a computer and worry about privacy issues related to the Internet use. On the other hand ex-users in clerical professions most often provide next three reasons: they are not interested in Internet use, the Internet is too expensive and they no longer have a computer available. Lastly, blue collars state similar reasons but in a different order.

Reasons ex-users stopped using the Internet by occupation

Reasons ex-users stopped using the Internet by occupation

Non- and Ex-users: Reasons for Not Using the Internet

After showing some of the characteristics of non- and ex-users of the Internet, this post focuses on reasons why they say they do not use the Internet. We will investigate what prevents people from trying out the Internet or stop using it in the next couple of blog posts.

We present non- and ex-users with a list of possible reasons for staying offline and ask them which were important for them. In the graph below we plot all percentage responses for the reasons for not using the Internet. The first conclusion that that the reasons for never trying the Internet are very different from the reasons for halting use. There are four main circumstances ex-users indicate as reasons to stop using the Internet. Over 60% claimed that the usage of the Internet is too expensive, and about a half of them said that they no longer have a computer through which they would assess the Internet. Four out of ten reported that they have stopped using the Internet as they have moved house, or moved/left a job or school where the connection was available. The same proportion of ex-users said they are just not interested in using the Internet. All other reasons, such as the Internet is not for people like me, it is time consuming and not useful, as well as privacy concerns were decisive reasons for around 15% of ex-users.

By contrast, a vast majority (83%) of non-users said that they are just not interested in using the Internet. The other two leading reasons for staying offline are not having a computer available and not knowing how to use the Internet. About 50% of non-users also believe that the Internet is not for people like them or for people of their age. This is so similar to not being interested that we combined those responses in the Report. About 50% also say the Internet is too expensive and difficult to use. Overall, non-users indicate a broader range of reasons for not using the Internet than ex-users. The latter are more likely to report physical constraints preventing them from using the Internet, whereas non-users lack the interest and skills to go online. These are important insights for understanding the dimensions of the divide between online and offline populations.

Reasons ex-users and non-users do not use the Internet

Respondents were also asked which reason was the most important. The graph below confirms that non-users are mostly not interested in using the Internet – 62% indicate the lack of interest and lack of usefulness as the decisive factors. On the contrary, for 38% of ex-users the most important factor was the expense and a further 27% said they did not have a computer or an Internet connection. 26% state they are not interested in using the Internet. Once again, we can conclude that perceptions about the Internet are the biggest constraint in getting people online for the first time, while those who have used the Internet before lack financial and physical resources to continue doing so.

Most important reason non-users and ex-users do not use the Internet