New survey finds potential for the digital divide to widen further

Newly-published research from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), part of the University of Oxford, has revealed that almost all forms of online commercial activity have increased sharply in the last six years.

The survey, which examines the state of internet use in Britain, reveals a rapid increase in use of the internet for commercial, banking and entertainment purposes:

  • – 83% of internet users now pay their bills online, up from 59% in 2013;
  • – 72% of internet users now watch films and TV series on platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, up from 49%;
  • – 76% of users now using channels such as Spotify and YouTube to stream their favourite songs, compared to 64% in 2013.

However, financial barriers are a key reason for not accessing the internet, with 40% of non-users reporting annual incomes below £12,500. The survey revealed a growing divide in experience and perception between those who use the internet and those who do not, which could lead to non-users potentially missing out on access to key services, widening the “digital divide”.

Posting on social media remains the most popular form of online content production, up 8 percentage points to 79% of internet users in 2019 (compared to figures from 2013). Writing a blog has declined by 6 percentage points at 14% of internet users in 2019, perhaps reflecting the emergence of ‘threads’ and the option to write longer posts and notes on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

New for 2019, the survey also examined whether people were comfortable with targeted online advertisements. 68% of internet users surveyed dislike the use of targeted advertising and the use of tracking data for commercial purposes.

Dr Grant Blank, Survey Research Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute, and author of the survey, said: “The majority of people are having positive experiences of internet use, regularly going online to watch their favourite shows or pay their utility bills. However there is a widening perception gap between internet users and non-users, with non-users resolutely avoiding the internet. Often these non-users are from low income groups, where being online could potentially improve their quality of life.

“There’s an interesting paradox here with internet users being less likely to take action to protect their privacy while non-users tend to be put off by privacy concerns. These concerns could perpetuate the digital divide, with many people missing out on the benefits of the internet, such as access to health information, employment opportunities and reduced prices online.

“There’s a real opportunity to engage with non-users to address their concerns and help them understand the opportunities the internet can bring. We hope this survey contributes to the public debate about what further steps can be taken to narrow the digital divide.”

The Oxford Internet Survey 2019 is sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), BT and Google. The latest OxIS 2019 survey is the seventh in a series, with previous surveys carried out in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013. OxIS provides the UK contribution to the World Internet Project (WIP), an international collaborative project that joins over two dozen nations in studies of the social, economic and political implications of the Internet.

For more information, download the full report.

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Michael Feeley
Michael Feeley
Michael Feeley is Editor of The Social Intelligence Lab. More content by

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