New Ofcom - ICO research: Internet users’ concerns about and experience of potential online harms

posted on 24 June, 2019   (public)

Personal data and bullying identified as major concerns for Internet users

A recent report released in May 2019, commissioned by Ofcom with advice from the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office), intends to quantify concerns and experiences of Internet users, grouped under three categories: Content & interactions; Data and privacy and Hacking and security.

To that end, from February to March 2019, more than 2,000 face-to-face interviews (among Internet users aged 16+) and more than 1,000 online interviews (among Internet users aged between 12 and 15) were held. Respondents were asked to talk about their Internet experience and concerns, first spontaneously, then after reading a list of potential harms.

In general, the report reveals a wide variety of concerns about going online, while the most reported concerns are personal data being stolen, material showing child sexual abuse and bullying. However, it is noteworthy that around 60% of all respondents agree that the benefits of going online outweigh the risks.

Here are some of the key points:

Regarding adults (aged 16+):
  • Spontaneously: around 75% admit to having concerns about Internet use and especially regarding security (scams, frauds…) and personal data being stolen.
  • With the potential harms list: while the most experienced online harm is “going online too much”, the greatest concern of adults is the theft and process of personal data, along with content related to child sexual abuse. These two harms also cause the greatest impact upon those who have experienced them.
  • In the past 12 months, spam emails (34%), fake news (25%) and scams/fraud (22%) are the most likely harm to be experienced.
It can be noted that the proportion of adult Internet users concerned about at least one aspect of going online increases to 83% in relation to children and 84% more generally after having read the potential harms list.
Regarding children (aged between 12 and 15):
  • Spontaneously: 59% of the concerns reported by children were relating to interactions with other people, and especially bullying. 23% of children have come across bullying in the last 12 months.
  • With the potential harms list: while the most experienced online harm is “going online too much”, the greatest concern of children is bullying and unwelcome friend requests, which are also high frequency harms. Regarding the impact, material showing child sexual abuse and self-harm, despite their low frequency of experience, were the most reported.
  • In the past 12 months, offensive language (39%), spam emails (33%) and unwelcome friend requests (28%) are the most likely harm to be experienced.
  • For parents too, bullying is the greatest concern in relation with children.
Regarding the source of harm:
For all respondents, social networks are the most reported source of potential harms and are perceived to be less regulated than traditional media (around 25% of the interviewees believe that there is no regulation at all). In line with this result, social media and video-sharing platforms generate the lowest level of trust from the Internet users and 36% of 12-15 year old Internet users even said that online bullies put them off using social media.

Additional EPRA background: Ofcom presented the key findings of this report at the 49th EPRA meeting during the Plenary session on "Protection of minors in the online world: focus on evidence of harm". This report, although national in scope, is rich in data and can contribute to and feed knowledge regarding online harm experiences and impacts on users as part of an evidence-based approach.

Source: Ofcom