What do we do online?

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Online privacy concerns and inequality in internet access are highlighted in the latest New Zealand data from the World Internet Project.

According to 1,400 new Zealanders surveyed by AUT researchers at the Institute of Culture, Discourse & Communication for the World Internet Project, we’re all online. The survey found that 91% of us use the internet, with age and income appear to be the biggest barriers to accessing the www. 40% of us defined access to the internet as very important in our day-to-day life, with another 36% describing it as important. 56% of us rate the internet as a very important source of information. By contrast, television was rated as very important by just 16% of people – and newspapers as very important by only 11%.

For the first time in the eight year history of the survey, researchers asked respondents about their views on privacy, with 45% of respondents admitting that they are concerned about companies and corporations violating their privacy online.

Executive Director of the World Internet Project New Zealand research project AUT senior lecturer 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,” says Smith.

“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.”

Cybercrime on the rise

It’s not just pesky companies trying to (legally) market products to you that are of concern, with the latest Symantec Internet Security Threat Report claiming that the incidence of computer-attacking software has exploded in the last six years, from 2.3 million new pieces of malware in 2009 to 430.5 million last year.

New Zealand seen as a relatively soft target, ranking second in the southern hemisphere in 2015 behind Australia and 21st globally for ransomware attacks – where cyber criminals put malware on someone’s computer and hold their digital content hostage until they pay up.

The report estimates ransomware attacks in New Zealand averaged 108 per day.

Worryingly, it appears that cyber criminals are going corporate, establishing professional businesses with nine to five work hours and holiday pay, and their skills now match those of nation-state attackers.

“We are even seeing low-level criminal attackers create call centre operations to increase the impact of their scams,” said Symantec director Kevin Haley.

New Zealanders were fairly naïve when engaging on the internet, Haley said, and the country needs legislation to force companies to report data breaches to their customers.

Replacing the current voluntary data breach reporting law with mandatory reporting forms part of proposed changes to New Zealand’s privacy legislation being drafted at present.

The Internet in New Zealand

The World Internet Project reported that the two dozen most highly-ranked things that we do online are as follows:

  • 1 Check email
  • 2 Post messages or comments
  • 3 Surf or browse the web
  • 4 Use a search engine to locate information
  • 5 Find or check a fact
  • 6 Look for local/national/international news
  • 7 Get information about a product online
  • 8 Look for travel information
  • 9 Look for health or medical information
  • 10 Use an online map or an app for navigation
  • 11 Look for information about New Zealand events, culture or history
  • 12 Post messages or comments on social networking sites
  • 13 Compare prices of product services online
  • 14 Use your banks online services
  • 15 Buy things online
  • 16 Look up the definition of a word
  • 17 Pay bills online
  • 18 Make travel reservations/bookings online
  • 19 Visit social networking sites
  • 20 Post audio material
  • 21 Watch TV shows
  • 22 Look for information on entertainment activities
  • 23 Make or receive phone calls over the internet
  • 24 Repost or share links or content created by others

Interestingly, laptops, desktops and mobile phones were all used to access the internet by 70% or more of internet users, with tablets not too far behind at 59%. Tablet usage has grown from 43% in the 2013 report.

Recently released devices such as smartwatches are accessible in the households of only a small percentage (4 %) of all respondents. By comparison, mobile phones of any kind (82%), laptops/netbooks (77%) and smartphones (75%) are available in most households.

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