Avast 2021 Digital Citizenship Report: Online life has changed forever post pandemic

Grace Macej 16 Sep 2021

While digital competency has increased through the pandemic for many, online privacy and security concerns remain barriers to full participation

As connectivity and internet usage continue to grow around the world, so do people’s concerns about internet privacy and safety. Our experts at Avast worked closely with market research institutions YouGov and Forsa to administer an internet privacy survey in order to gather facts and statistics on global digital citizenship trends. Over 16,000 internet users in 17 countries responded to help us better understand how sentiments, trends, and global attitudes towards the internet have evolved, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Avast’s Digital Citizenship Report examines the current landscape of internet behaviors, perceptions, trends, and statistics and their effect on internet users. In this survey, which ran from June 15-27, 2021, we worked with YouGov and Forsa to discover global attitudes towards the internet, including how safe and confident people feel and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on internet usage. 

Interested in reading more? Check out the full 2021 Digital Citizenship Report

Jaya Baloo, Chief Information Security Officer at Avast, said:  “The pandemic has dramatically changed the world, making our lives more digital and changing our attitudes and behaviors around the internet, this data shows. Over eighty percent of people told us that privacy is very important to them, but nearly two thirds had held back from doing something online for fear of their privacy. At Avast, we  use this data to better focus our protections around how people really use technology and the needs they actually have so they are better protected from security and privacy threats in this new environment.”

The impact of Covid-19 on digital activity

The pandemic caused significant changes to how people use the internet, on a global scale. Lockdowns necessitated that we conduct more of our lives online and a “new normal” was created as industries adapted and improved digital service offerings. Global attitudes towards the internet evolved, including technical literacy and confidence, and internet safety concerns developed as every generation has increased their time online.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the global Covid-19 pandemic radically shifted how much people do online. Although people around the world were either urged or legally required to remain at home, life continued. Many aspects of daily life moved online, from the explosion in the number of people working from home to the widespread use of “Zoom” as a verb. Work, study, access to services, and socializing became virtual experiences. Even people who had not previously used many online tools like elderly people, younger children, and adults who were previously reluctant to join the digital revolution found themselves growing accustomed to using the internet on a daily basis.

We asked people about which digital tools they used during the pandemic and whether they expect to continue to use them once the world begins to return to normality. Our study shows that one-third of global respondents plan to continue to do more things online, as it makes life easier. We also found evidence of strong concerns around data protection and online safety, highlighting a general call for stronger regulations. More digital access to health services, learning, and dating online signal an evolution in lifestyle, yet concerns around privacy keep people from fully participating.

“For digital citizens of all ages, the pandemic has made the internet an even more important outlet. It has helped them stay in touch with friends and family, increased their time on social media sites, boosted access to online health services, and enabled them to experience online dating in new and engaging ways,” said Baloo.

“But there’s another side to that story. While people are more than happy to use online services and engage digitally in completely new ways, they’re still incredibly privacy-conscious. And while they may want to be digital citizens in the wake of the pandemic, their confidence hasn't grown as much as their use, and in fact, they've said they've held back on some activities because of concerns, stopping them from going even further into the digital ecosystem for fear of the ramifications."

Key global findings

  • Many people will continue to stay online: Six in 10 global respondents reported that the internet has become more significant to their lives due to the pandemic. 33% of respondents overall expected to continue to do more activities online because those activities are easier. 31% of people aged 65 and older agreed with this, whereas only 17% of 18- to 24-year-olds did. It could be inferred that the younger age group may have already conducted more activities online than older people.

  • The internet has been educational: One-third of the respondents overall reported that the internet has helped them learn and experience new things during the pandemic. By age, 28% of 55- to 64-year-olds agreed, and 23% of people 65 and over. One in five of the respondents from every age bracket said increased internet usage improved their confidence with technology; 20% of people in the 18-24 age group, and 18% of those aged 65 and older.

  • As online populations grow, so do data protection concerns: Almost everyone agrees that data protection is important. A full 83% of respondents said they believed it is, yet only 43% have strong trust in data protection laws. Two-thirds of all respondents reported avoiding certain digital activities online because of security and privacy concerns. This is especially marked amongst women (68%), and people over the age of 65 (69%).
  • Lack of understanding and knowledge about digital privacy: We noted a general lack of understanding and knowledge about online privacy rights. Just 53% of people said they’re well-versed on privacy rights. 49% of our global respondents report that they read a website’s privacy policies. 

  • Dating, sports classes, and banking moved to the online world: We found that people around the globe were more likely to engage in a host of activities online during the pandemic. 35% increased their online shopping, and 25% did more online sports classes. 34% took part in online learning and virtual studying. 21% conducted more of their banking online, 30% used more online health services, and 23% participated more in online dating.

The importance of the internet

The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how people view the internet. Traffic on broadband networks increased by 51% due to the pandemic, according to OpenVault. According to our survey, six in 10 online users around the world reported that the pandemic made the internet more important in their lives. In the United States, for instance, 31% of respondents said the internet had become “much more important” in their lives, compared to just 11% of respondents in Germany. In India, a whopping 70% of people said the internet became “more important” in their lives.

Relevance for different age groups

Global citizens aged 65 and over experienced the most change: 46% of this group agreed that the increase in the importance of the internet in their lives varied from “a little” to “much more important” than pre-pandemic. More than two-thirds of 18- to 24-year-olds reported the same phenomenon. We can learn from this data that the internet impacted people throughout the pandemic.

The internet as a source for new experiences

During the pandemic, in-person experiences were off-limits, so the internet became a portal to new experiences. People were also required to develop new skills in technical literacy to conduct life online, as can be seen in the fact that 22% of people around the globe reported they tried video calling for the first time. Our survey found that between 29% and 33% of those between the ages of 18 to 54 said they engaged in new experiences on the internet during the pandemic, compared to 23% of those over the age of 65.

People in India and Latin American countries showed the highest figures for discovering new things via the internet, with 53% in India, 50% in Mexico, 46% in Brazil, and 43% in Argentina.

The internet makes people’s lives more bearable

Whilst people experienced the challenges of global lockdowns, the internet became a welcome escape for many. 34% of global respondents said the internet was an outlet for making life more bearable. Citizens in Latin America, India, and Spain were most appreciative of this outlet, with more than half of these populations agreeing. At the other end of this spectrum were Japanese respondents, with only 18% agreeing.

Our study shows that one-third of global respondents plan to continue to do more things online as life post-pandemic becomes easier. There was also a direct link between those countries that found life more bearable because of the internet and their intentions post-pandemic: The more likely you are to believe the internet made your life more bearable, the more likely you are to use the internet heavily post-pandemic.

Older people becoming internet converts

Historically, younger generations have tended to adopt technology and its uses more readily than older generations. Surprisingly, our survey found that respondents in the 65 and older category almost matched the 18-24 category in terms of finding the internet made pandemic life more bearable, demonstrating the significance of this global event on internet adoption. Globally, 36% of the oldest age bracket and 37% of the youngest affirmed this positive result.

On a country-by-country basis, the impact the internet had on older people was even more striking. In the United States, for instance, 40% of people over 65 said the internet made their lives more bearable. In Argentina and Brazil, those numbers swelled to 62% and 61%, respectively. 

Increased confidence when using the internet

Our survey demonstrated that people of all age demographics have gained confidence about using the internet because of increased use during the pandemic: 18% of older people; 20% of people between 18 and 34; and 20% of people in the 35-44 age group. India showed the highest figures of people reporting a boost in internet confidence at 39%, and Japan the lowest, at 5%. Only 7% of all respondents said that they found it difficult to adapt to doing more things online during the pandemic. 

Safety concerns inhibiting people online

Increased concerns come along with increased internet usage, according to our survey data. Eight in 10 respondents globally said data protection is an important component of their digital lives. Additionally, two-thirds reported that they’ve decided against certain online activities due to security and privacy concerns. 

Key global findings:

  • 69% of women in the 65 and over age group reported worrying about these issues.

  • 65% of all survey respondents have decided not to do something due to security or privacy concerns. Out of these people, 30% decided against using public Wi-Fi out of privacy concerns. 

  • 28% of respondents decided against purchasing an online item because of their privacy concerns.

  • 37% of people said they abandoned a decision to sign up for a website because of privacy issues.

The internet has been indispensable in helping everyone maintain as much of their normal lives as possible during the pandemic, and many people have no qualms about remaining more digital than ever before. However, the pandemic highlights a worrying gap between the demographics who feel confident in their ability to navigate the digital world safely and securely, and those who don’t, but might need to anyway.

The internet is at a crossroads. More people want to use it, but they also fear the risks,” Baloo says. “We as digital citizens must work alongside our fellow internet users to help them reduce their risks, enjoy their time on the internet, and get back to living their digital lives. It’s against that backdrop that true digital opportunities exist.”

For more details, check out our full 2021 Digital Citizenship Report

For this report, Avast has done a survey among 16,147 online users in 17 countries around the world. The survey includes a representative 1000 respondents per region in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

The Forsa Institute for Social Research and Statistical Analysis partnered with us to cover a further 1,000 respondents in Germany, and 500 respondents per territory in Austria, and the Swiss German-speaking population of Switzerland. The “total” data points in this report are covering results of all regions, apart from data points that show results by age groups or gender, where results from German speaking markets are excluded.

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