New tech means new ethics. Researching people’s attitudes towards technology and privacy

6 min


At the Dentsu Aegis Network communications group, we conduct an annual Digital Society Index (DSI) survey. This is our global research in 22 countries of the world, including Russia, about the digital economy and its impact on society.

This year, of course, we could not ignore COVID-19 and decided to look at how the pandemic has affected digitalization. As a result, DSI 2020 was released in two parts: the first is devoted to how people began to use and perceive technology against the backdrop of coronavirus events, the second – how they now relate to privacy and assess their level of vulnerability. We share the results of our research and forecasts.

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Background

As one of the largest digital players and a technology conductor for brands, the Dentsu Aegis Network Group believes in the importance of developing the digital economy for everyone (our motto is digital economy for all). In order to assess its current state in terms of meeting social needs, in 2017 we initiated the Digital Society Index (DSI) study at the global level.

The first study was published in 2018. In it, for the first time, we evaluated digital economies (then there were 10 studied countries and 20 thousand respondents) in terms of how much ordinary people are involved in digital services and have a positive attitude towards the digital environment.

Then, to the surprise of many ordinary people, Russia took second place in this indicator! Although it was at the end of the top ten in other parameters: dynamism (how strongly the digital economy affects the well-being of the population), the level of access to digital and trust. One of the curious findings of the first study is that people in developing economies are much more involved in digital than in developed ones.

In 2019, due to the expansion of the sample to 24 countries, Russia dropped to the penultimate place in the ranking. And the study itself was published under the motto “People come first” (Human Needs in a Digital World), the focus shifted towards studying people’s satisfaction with technology and digital trust.

As part of DSI 2019, we identified a big global trend – people are seeking to take back digital control. Here are some trigger numbers in this regard:
44% of people have taken steps to reduce the amount of data they share online
27% have installed ad blocking software
21% actively limit the amount of time they spend on the Internet or at the smartphone screen,
and 14% deleted their social media account.

2020: techlash or techlaw?

The DSI 2020 survey was conducted in March-April 2020, which saw the peak of the pandemic and restrictive measures around the world, among 32 thousand people in 22 countries, including Russia.

According to the survey results, we saw increased techno-optimism against the backdrop of the pandemic – this is a short-term effect of the events of previous months, and it inspires great hope. At the same time, in the long term, there is the threat of techlash – a negative attitude towards technology that has been felt around the world in recent years.

Techlove:

  • Compared to last year, people have begun to use digital services more often: almost three quarters of respondents in all countries (more than 50% in Russia) said that they are now more actively using banking services and online shopping.
  • 29% of respondents (both in the world and in Russia) admitted that it was technology that allowed them not to lose touch with family, friends and the world around them during quarantine. The same number (among Russians there are more of them – about 35%) noted that digital services helped to relax and unwind, as well as acquire new skills and knowledge.
  • Employees have begun to use digital skills more often in their work (this is typical for almost half of those surveyed in 2020 versus one third in 2018). This indicator could be influenced by the massive transition to a remote work format.
  • People have become more confident in the ability of technology to solve social problems, such as the challenges of COVID-19 for health and other areas. The share of optimists regarding the importance of technology for society increased to 54% against 45% in 2019 (in Russia, a similar trend).

Techlash:

  • 57% of people at the global level (53% in Russia) still believe that the rate of technological change is too fast (the indicator has remained practically unchanged since 2018). As a result, they strive for digital balance: almost half of the respondents (both in the world and in our country) intend to allocate time to “rest” from gadgets.
  • 35% of people, like last year, note the negative impact of digital technology on health and well-being. There is a noticeable gap between the countries in this matter: the greatest concern is expressed in China (64%), more optimistic in Russia (only 22%) and Hungary (20%). Among other things, the respondents indicate that technology makes them feel more stressed, it becomes more difficult for them to “disconnect” from digital (13% in the world and 9% in Russia).
  • Only 36% in the world believe that new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics will create jobs in the future. Russians are more pessimistic on this issue (23% of them).
  • About half of the respondents, as in the previous year, are confident that digital technologies are increasing inequality between rich and poor. The attitude of Russians to this problem also remains unchanged, but in our country only 30% hold a similar opinion. An example is the use of mobile internet and digital services. Respondents rate the coverage and quality of Internet services much higher than their availability for the entire population (see the graph at the beginning of the article).

Privacy Disruption

So, the results of the first part demonstrate that the pandemic has accelerated the digital revolution. It is logical that with the growth of online activity, the amount of data that users share has increased. And (spoiler) it worries them a lot:

  • Less than half of the world’s respondents (and only 19% in Russia – the lowest in the surveyed markets) believe that companies protect the privacy of their personal data.
  • 8 out of 10 consumers, both globally and in our country, are ready to refuse the services of the company if they find out that their personal data was used unethically.

Not everyone believes that it is acceptable for a business to use all the variety of personal data to improve its products and services. The use of even the most basic information, such as an e-mail address, is agreed by 45% in the world and 44% in Russia.

21% of consumers at the global level are ready to share information about viewed Internet pages, information from social media profiles – 17%. Interestingly, Russians are more open in providing access to browser history (25%). At the same time, social networks are perceived by them as a more private space – only 13% want to give this data to third parties.

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Leaks and privacy breaches have been a major destroyer of trust in tech companies and platforms for the second year in a row. Most of all, people are ready to rely on government agencies to preserve their personal data. At the same time, there is not a single industry / sphere that they fully trust in matters of privacy.

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People’s negative attitude to privacy issues goes against their real behavior on the Internet. And this is more than paradoxical:

  • People are not sure about the fair use of their personal data, but they are increasingly sharing it, using digital services more and more actively.
  • Most users do not want to share personal data, but they do it anyway (often without realizing it).
  • People demand that companies explicitly ask them for permission to use their personal data, but they hardly read user agreements.
  • Consumers expect personalization in products and services, but they are more cautious about personalized ads.
  • Users seek to regain digital control, but believe that in the long run, the benefits of digital services are likely to outweigh the potential risks.
  • Technology for the benefit of society is the main consumer demand for the future.

About future

As the use of digital products increases, for example, for work and health diagnostics, the volume of personal data will continue to increase, raising concerns about the rights and opportunities to protect it.

We see several scenarios for the development of the situation – from the creation of ethical regulators and special supervisory corporate policies (central control) to partnerships between companies and users in the monetization of personal data (free for all).

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Looking 2-3 years ahead, almost half of the consumers we surveyed want to receive financial benefits in exchange for their personal data. So far, this is, perhaps, futurology: over the past year, only 1 out of 10 users globally sold their personal data. Although in Austria a quarter of the respondents said about such cases.

What else is important for those who create digital products and services:

  • 66% of people in the world (49% in Russia) expect companies to use technology for the benefit of society in the next 5-10 years.
  • First of all, this concerns the development of products and services that improve health and well-being – such expectations are shared by 63% of consumers at the global level (52% in Russia).
  • Despite the fact that consumers are concerned about the ethical side of the use of new technologies (for example, face recognition), almost half of the world’s respondents (52% in Russia) are ready to pay for products and services using Face-ID or Touch-ID systems.

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Good practice will be the focus of every business, not only during a pandemic, but throughout the next decade. In response to new demands, companies will have to pay more attention to creating customized solutions that help people improve their quality of life, rather than just promoting a product or service. As well as the ethical side of the use of their personal data.


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