Data Privacy Concerns Nearly 2 Billion Internet Users

By James Canham-Ash

Among the headline stories to break over the last 12 months, the accelerated growth of Internet users around the globe is certainly one of the most significant. Last year alone, more than 360 million people came online for the first time, at an average of almost 1 million new users each day. This spike now means that 57 percent of the world’s population (some 4.388 billion individuals), is connected to the World Wide Web.

It is not just the number of users that is on the increase, though. According to the Hootsuite Digital Report 2019, we’re spending significant amounts of time online, too, with the average Internet user now spending more than six and a half hours online each day.

With fixed and mobile Internet speeds increasing over the last year by 18 percent  and 33 percent to 25.08 MBPS and 54.33MBPS, respectively, it is no surprise that streaming giant YouTube is the second most visited website in the world, with the average visitor spending a whopping 21 minutes per visit.

All this adds up to the world’s digital population spending a combined total of more than 1.2 billion years online by the end of 2019, 48 percent of which will be done via mobile connections on devices such as tablets, smartphones and wearables.

If the Internet is the enabler of Industry 4.0, then data is certainly the fuel that is powering it. While the exponential growth of data is undisputed, the numbers behind this explosion (fueled by cloud, the IoT and a host of other developing tech), are still hard to articulate. So let’s take a look at this data boom in the context of “a day in the life of data.”

According to a recent special report by Raconteur Media, drawing on data from PWC, Twitter, Facebook Research, Intel, PwC and Smart Insights, 294 billion emails are sent, 500 million tweets are posted, 4PBs of Facebook data is created and 65 billion WhatsApp messages are sent each day. Looking ahead to next year, the amount of data in the digital universe is predicted to grow ten-fold to 44ZB.

So what’s the big deal? After all, one can argue that with increased Internet proliferation and data generation comes economic benefit; with economic development comes more stable government, and stable government ultimately results in greater social mobility and inclusion for all citizens.

While debatable, I believe it is certainly the case that a significant and increasingly relevant by-product of the Internet, isn’t just the data – increasingly it is the consumer awareness of how that very same data (especially data that’s relevant to individuals) is being collected, mined and used by third-parties and brands – a concept that Shoshana Zuboff refers to as surveillance capitalism.

According to the same Hootsuite report, some 42 percent of Internet users (or nearly 2 billion people globally) are concerned about data privacy issues, so that isn’t a number that can simply be dismissed or ignored. It’s no coincidence that the last 12 months have witnessed a raft of international data protection regulations, from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), to updates to Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) in Singapore. All of which target exactly this point.

Trying to roll back Internet penetration or data creation is akin to trying to hold back the tide. It’s going to prove pretty much impossible unless you happen to own a trident. The value of the Hootsuite and Raconteur research is not to scare marketing departments, IT departments or legal teams into knee-jerk, short-term action. Rather, its true value is to highlight the clear and present need for companies of all sizes and sectors to address the data privacy concerns of a significant and growing percentage of global citizens.

Only by building company-wide cultures and technology offerings that put data-awareness, usage, storage and management at the very center of our daily processes and strategic business decisions, will we achieve the trust that’s vital to underpin a flourishing, connected and truly global digital economy.