Germany

New Study In Germany Finds Fears Of The Internet Are Much Higher Than Expected

The divide between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” is vast, and a new study of Internet use in the land of Gutenberg finds that twice the number previously believed barely go online at all.

A protest in Berlin against attempts to install a censorship infrastructure in Germany (Franz Patzig)
A protest in Berlin against attempts to install a censorship infrastructure in Germany (Franz Patzig)
Claudia Ehrenstein

BERLIN – The first-ever in-depth study of Internet use in Germany offers some surprising – and not so surprising -- results.

For starters, Internet users in Germany have very different expectations regarding security on the web, according to the new study published by the Deutsche Institut für Vertrauen und Sicherheit im Internet (German Institute for Trust and Safety on the Internet -- DIVSI).

DIVSI director Matthias Kammer spoke of "diametrically opposed safety needs' and warned that conflicts that could ensue from as a result could potentially lead to a breakdown in "social solidarity."

According to the study, so-called "Digital Natives' – mainly the young – feel safe on the Internet and assume responsibility for their personal data. "I surf, therefore I am," is the way Kammer describes the approach of Digital Natives, paraphrasing French philosopher René Descartes's famous line "I think, therefore I am."

By contrast, those dubbed "Digital Immigrants' who regularly -- but mostly unwillingly -- use the Internet, feel strongly that it puts them at risk, and that politicians should come up with strict new data protection regulations.

And then there are the "Digital Outsiders," who are so fearful of losing control over their personal data that they don't go online at all. Fears, as Kammer jokingly explained, include "deleting the Internet" if they make an inadvertent wrong move.

There are 27 million people in Germany, according to the study, who never or only very rarely log on – that's almost 40% of the population, double the amount of people it had heretofore been assumed were not using the Internet. More than 40% of Germans can be characterized as Digital Natives, while Digital Immigrants make up around 20%.

Kammer believes politicians must find legislation that manages to respond to the expectations and needs of all three groups, and strike appropriate balance between the desires for freedom and security.

More than 2,000 people were interviewed individually for 45 minutes each by study researchers. An additional number of conversations lasting several hours were held with selected participants. Kammer stressed that this study marks the first time that Germany's Internet usage has been examined with such precision.

A marked difference emerged, he said, between young users who used the web with confidence and believed that "if somebody wants my data they can have it – I'm not that important," and the much more skeptical and skittish older users.

One-third of all users were of the opinion that such a thing as absolute security could exist on the Internet. Fifty percent, however, feared that such safety would never be possible. Three-fourths of participants expected Germany's political and economic players to ensure greater Internet safety. One-fourth of users, mainly Digital Natives, were against anything that limited freedom on the web.

On closer examination of the three main groups of users, researchers identified seven different behaviors, such as the "unsavvy, unconfident" user who only goes online in exceptional cases and often feels completely overwhelmed. Then there's the "greenhorn" who sends e-mails and uses Skype to place calls, but is otherwise extremely cautious. "I would only ever order something on the Internet if my son helped me," said one participant. Both of these types belong to the Digital Outsider category.

"Responsible-minded routine users' may only use the Internet selectively, but overall have a very positive attitude to the digital world. The "post-material skeptic" displays a very critical stance with regard to the increasingly commercial nature of the digital world ("If something's free on the Internet, then you know you're paying with your data") and to "blind" fascination with technology. These behaviors belong to Digital Immigrants.

Digital Natives are prone to three different behaviors. "Unfettered hedonists' love being online and don't think about possible risks. "Efficiency-oriented performers' are Internet pros. "Digital masters," however, constitute the avant-garde. They use the Internet as an expression of independence and are marked by strong individualism. For them, "a certain anarchy" should prevail online. The Digital Natives are also the ones who determine how language and grammar are used on the web, the study says.

It is therefore important, it concludes, to sensitize this group particularly to the fact that there are people who do not feel as at home on the web as they do. Otherwise, DIVSI director Kammer warns, conflicts will develop.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Franz Patzig

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