More New Zealanders are worried about companies checking on their personal online activity than about government keeping tabs on their online movements.
That’s according to findings from the World Internet Project New Zealand survey, which is carried out every two years by AUT researchers at the Institute of Culture, Discourse & Communication.
While 45 percent of survey respondents were concerned that companies and corporations were violating their privacy online, only 33 percent held the same concerns about government.
World Internet Project New Zealand Executive Director Dr Philippa Smith says media coverage of online privacy issues could explain why respondents reported greater concerns over corporates accessing their data.
“One possible explanation is the news coverage about the sort of information companies are able to access as a result of people agreeing to use their apps, social networking sites or websites,” Smith says.
“People may also be getting a sense of that intrusion on their online privacy when they suddenly get an email or a pop-up on their browser selling them something which is close to what they might have been searching or reading about on the internet.”
Despite these privacy concerns, Smith says 45 percent of respondents agreed there was no such thing as privacy online and they accepted that fact.
Smith says the privacy questions appeared in the survey for the first time this year.
Other survey findings provided a picture of how New Zealanders are using their time online: 95 percent of users were surfing or browsing the web (with 81 percent reporting this as a daily activity), 91 percent were looking for news, 85 percent were visiting social networking sites and 55 percent had paid taxes, fines or licences online in the past year.
Survey results also showed the internet trumping traditional media as an information source.
More than half of respondents (56 percent) rated the internet as a “very important” information source, compared to 16 percent for television, 12 percent for radio, and 11 percent for newspapers.
Project Methodologist Professor Charles Crothers says the survey also explored respondents’ interests in expanding their internet use and found three quarters were interested in different types of use, including accessing education, more use for entertainment and use of government or council services.
“The high interest in accessing education and use of government services shows people may be moving to making use more of the internet's potential,” Crothers adds.
However, not everyone is accessing information online or reaping the benefits of the internet.
“The digital divide still persists,” Smith adds. “Age and household income still seem to be the biggest barriers to internet usage.”
The World Internet Project New Zealand report notes that “as the availability and use of the internet spreads ever more widely across society, the social cost for the minority who remain on the wrong side of the digital divide keeps on climbing”.
InternetNZ Chief Executive Jordan Carter says the survey is a “great initiative” and provides “concrete data” to evaluate the state of the internet in New Zealand.
“The data provides valuable information about who does and doesn't have access to the internet – and how people are using it,” he adds.
“Among other advantages, it will prove helpful when researching and improving the digital divide that is evident around the country.”
Carter says the online privacy questions also provided some important insights.
“We were pleased to see that the majority of respondents - 68 percent - are active in trying to protect their online privacy,” he adds.Read more: Privacy a ‘defining issue of the age’
“This does, however, give us evidence that nearly one third of people may need further education and information about the importance of online privacy.
“This is a key focus area for InternetNZ and something we are working hard on to improve.”
In addition, Smith says each survey helps to develop a better understanding of how New Zealanders’ are using the internet and how their habits and attitudes are changing as the technology evolves.
The World Internet Project New Zealand survey is part of an international collaborative project undertaken in 39 countries.