The annual study of the impact of the Internet on Americans conducted by the Center for the Digital Future found that almost half of Internet users age 16 and older -- 48 percent -- are worried about companies checking their actions on the Internet.
By comparison, the new question for the Digital Future Study found that only 38 percent of Internet users age 16 and older are concerned about the government checking what they do online.
"Many of us are worried that the Big Brother in our lives is actually Big Business," said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
"Internet users have major concerns about corporate intrusion -- and who can blame them?" said Cole. "Considering the recent revelations about covert surveillance of personal behavior through GPS tracking and other related issues, we believe that user concerns about the involvement -- some would say encroachment -- of companies into the lives of Internet users represent a significant issue."
The responses are among more than 180 issues explored by the Digital Future Project, which has now completed its 10th study of the digital realm -- the longest continuing study of its kind and the first to develop a longitudinal survey of the views and behavior of Internet users and non-users.
The Internet and free speech about politics and government
Other new questions for the 2011 study explored users' views about personal expression online on matters concerning politics and government:
* Among Internet users age 16 and older, 33 percent said that it is safe to voice their views about politics while online. However, 36 percent of users do not think it is safe to say whatever one thinks about politics while online.
* A much larger percentage – 70 percent -- believe that people should be free on the Internet to criticize their government while online.
* And more than half of users -- 55 percent -- agreed with the concept that people should be able to express their ideas on the Internet, even if those ideas are extreme.
The Center for the Digital Future telephone and web-based survey of 1,926 Americans over the age of 12 was conducted between April and August 2010, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
The Center for the Digital Future: 10 studies that explore the impact of the Internet on America
The Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism created and organizes the World Internet Project, which includes the Digital Future Project and similar studies in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Australasia.
The Digital Future Project provides a broad year-to-year exploration of the influence of the Internet and online technology on Americans. Since 2000, the project has examined the behavior and views of a national sample of Internet users and non-users, as well as comparisons between light users (5 hours or less per week using the Internet) and heavy users (more than 24 hours per week on the Internet).
"Through our 10 studies, we have observed one particularly fascinating constant: that online behavior changes relentlessly, and users and non-users develop attitudes and actions that are constantly in flux as technology emerges, and then thrives or withers," said Cole. "This report, the nine studies that preceded it, and those that will follow, are our ongoing attempt to chronicle this extraordinary interplay between technology and behavior."
For highlights of the 2011 Digital Future Project or to order a copy of the complete report, visit www.digitalcenter.org.
Selected Highlights: The 2011 Digital Future Project – Year Ten
The Digital Future Project, conducted by the Center for the Digital Future USC Annenberg's School for Communication & Journalism, explores the behavior and attitudes about Internet use and non-use in five major subject areas: who is online and who is not, media use and trust, consumer behavior, communication patterns, and social effects.
Each study explores more than 100 major issues in broad categories involving the impact of online technology in the United States. Here are selected highlights of the 2011 study:
("Light users" = 5 hours or less per week using the Internet; "Heavy users" = more than 24 hours per week on the Internet)
Internet Users and Non-Users
1. Internet Use in the United States
In 2009, Internet use surpassed 80 percent among Americans – reaching 82 percent. In the current study, Internet use remained flat at 82 percent of Americans.
4. Internet Use and Income
The expense of using the Internet continues to be cited as a reason for not going online by only a small percentage of non-users -- only seven percent in the current study. Nevertheless, the tenth Digital Future Project continues to find that Internet use has a strong relationship with income.
5. Hours per Week Online
Internet use dipped slightly to an average of 18.3 hours per week -- the first time the weekly use has declined in the studies.
Internet Non-Users: Exploring the Views of 18 Percent of Americans
27. Internet Non-Users: Were They Ever Online?
Of the 18 percent of Americans who are not currently using the Internet, 39 percent in the current Digital Future Study had previously gone online.
28. Internet Non-Users: Reasons for Not Being Online
The study reported a large increase in the percentage of non-users who don't go online because they lack a computer or an Internet connection. Thirty-seven percent of non-users cited this reason for not going online, up from 27 percent in the previous study. Twenty-five percent of non-users said their reason for not going online was that the Internet is of "no interest" or "not useful," and seven percent are non-users because of the expense.
29. "Internet Dropouts": Why Do Users Stop Going Online?
"Internet dropouts" -- those who previously used the Internet but no longer go online -- continue to report a variety of reasons for being non-users. The largest response in the current study -- no interest -- increased to 17 percent of dropouts.
Views about Sources of Information and Entertainment
34. Access to News through the Media
Internet users report spending more time each week going online for non-sports news than any other type of media, online or offline.
35. Views about Sources of Information
Three-quarters of Internet users age 17 and older said that the Internet was an important or very important source of information to them (75 percent) -- higher than the percentage reported for television, newspapers, or radio.
The Internet, Television, and Print Newspapers: Quality and Integrity of Coverage
The Digital Future Project asked a series of new questions that explored the quality and integrity of non-sports media coverage on the Internet, television, and in print newspapers.
39. Media Coverage on the Internet, Television, and in Print Newspapers: Users
According to users age 18 and older, how well do the Internet, television, and print newspapers accomplish certain key goals? In eight out of twelve categories, larger percentages of respondents said the Internet was "good" or "excellent" at accomplishing the goal, compared to television and print newspapers.
40. Media Coverage on the Internet, Television, and in Print Newspapers: Non-Users
Surprisingly large percentages of non-users said the Internet is good or excellent for non-sports news coverage. The Internet received good or excellent ratings from half or more of non-users in all categories, even though these respondents do not go online for their news coverage.
42. Information Online: Is it Reliable?
A slightly higher percentage of users (40 percent) compared to non-users (38 percent) in the current Digital Future study said that most or all of the information on the Internet is reliable
Views about Regulation of the Internet
60. The Internet and Government Regulation
Only a small percentage of respondents (19 percent) said that the government should regulate the Internet more than it does now. Sixty-one of respondents disagree or strongly disagree that there should be more government regulation of the Internet.
62. The Internet and Personal Privacy: Government and Companies
A significant percentage of Internet users are concerned about the government checking what they do online. Users are even more concerned about companies checking what they do online.
69. Would You Miss the Print Edition of Your Newspaper?
The percentage of users who said that they would miss the print edition of their newspaper if it ceased to exist continued to grow -- but slightly -- for the second year in a row -- now 63 percent.
70. Does Online Content Lead to Cancelled Print Subscriptions?
Even though a large percentage of users who read newspapers said they would miss the print edition of the publication if it was no longer available, the percentage of readers who stopped reading a print publication because of online content increased in the current study.
71. Alternatives to Print Newspapers
A growing percentage of newspaper readers said they would switch to the online edition of the publication if the print edition ceased to exist.
Buying on the Internet
83. Who Is Buying Online?
Sixty-eight percent of adult Internet users said they buy online, a slight increase over the 65 percent reported in 2009 and the highest figure reported thus far in the Digital Future Project.
84. Who Is Buying Online: Light Users Vs. Heavy Users
While large percentage of adult Internet users overall buy online, large disparities exist between the purchasing behavior of light users and heavy users.
85. How Much are Online Purchasers Spending?
The percentage of users who report spending $1 to $100 per month increased to 58 percent of adult Internet users, up from 54 percent in the previous study.
Americans and Email
104. How Many Americans Are Using Email?
Nearly all respondents who go online continue to use email (97 percent), with the percentage increasing marginally in the current study over the previous year.
105. Email Users: By Age
Even though the use of text messaging is growing dramatically among primarily younger Internet users, very large percentages of Internet users in every age range use email, and use is near-universal (94 percent or more) in all age ranges.
106. Regular Contact by Email
Email users maintain weekly personal email contact with a growing number of people -- now an average of 7.5, up from 6.7 in the previous study and the highest level in four years. More than half (52 percent) of email users maintain personal contact by email on a weekly basis with five or more people, up from 47 percent in the previous study.
For the Digital Future Project, an "online community" is defined as a group that shares thoughts or ideas, or works on common projects, through electronic communication only. For views and behavior on social networking and video sharing sites, see the next section.
126. Online Community Members: How Often Do They Log In?
More than half (56 percent) of online community members are actively involved in their communities on a daily basis.
131. Online Communities: Connection to Offline Actions
Thirty-two percent of online community members said they take actions offline at least monthly that are related to their online community, such as attending a meeting or seeing a doctor.
134. Online Community Members: Do They Meet Members of Their Community in Person?
Fifty percent of online community members said they meet in person with members of their online communities.
Social Networking and Video Sharing Sites
135. Websites for Video Sharing or Social Networking: How Often Do You Visit?
Visiting websites for video sharing or social networking such as YouTube or Facebook continues to increase; 44 percent of Internet users said they use these sites at least once a day or more, up from 36 percent in the previous study.
136. Creating Content for Video Sharing or Social Networking Sites
The percentage of users who create content for websites such as YouTube continues to grow modestly -- now 32 percent of users.
137. Why Do Online Community Members Visit Websites for Video Sharing and Social Networking?
The most frequently-cited reason for visiting video sharing sites such as YouTube and social networking websites such as Facebook is to relax or fill time -- reported by 64 percent of Internet users in the current Digital Future Project, up from 61 percent in 2009.
Online Communities and Social Causes
138. Participation in Online Communities Related to Social Causes
After increasing for three years, the percentage of members of online communities who participate in communities related to social causes declined in the current Digital Future study.
139. The Internet as an Information Source about Social Causes
Ninety-three percent of online community members said the Internet helps them stay informed about social causes, up from 91 percent in 2009 and 2008.
140. Does Participation in Online Communities Encourage Members to Participate in Social Causes?
Seventy-nine percent of online community members said they participate in social causes new to them since they became involved in online communities -- an increase from 71 percent in 2009.
Children and the Internet
146. Internet Use: the Right Amount of Time For Children?
A modest but growing percentage of adults said the children in their households spend too much time online; the number who said the amount of time is "just right" declined in the current study.
147. Television Viewing: The Right Amount of Time for Children?
The percentage of adults who said that the amount of time that household children are spending watching television is just right has increased for the second year in a row.
148. The Internet and Schoolwork: Children's Views
Ninety-six percent of Internet users age 18 and under said that going online has some level of importance for their schoolwork, while only four percent said the Internet was not at all important.
Political Power and Influence
152-167. At a Glance: Views about the Internet and Politics
Overall, large percentages of Internet users believe that the Internet plays an important role in political campaigns and leads to an increased understanding of politics. However, much smaller percentages of users think that the Internet serves as a tool to build political power, or to encourage public officials to care more about constituents' views, or to create more say for citizens in their government.
168. Voting Online
Although election campaigns now involve elaborate outreach by candidates over the Internet, respondents age 16 and older express only limited enthusiasm for voting online.
The Internet and Free Speech about Politics and Government
New questions for the Digital Future Project asked respondents for their views regarding personal expression online about politics and government.
169-170. Personal Political Expression on the Internet
Thirty-three percent of Internet users agree or strongly agree that it is safe to say online whatever one thinks about politics, while 36 percent of non-users agree with this statement.
171. Criticizing the Government While Online
Sixty-six percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that people should be free to criticize the government while online -- twice the number from the previous question who said they feel comfortable saying whatever they like about politics while online.
173. Free Speech and Extreme Ideas while Online
More than a majority of respondents -- 52 percent -- agreed with the concept that people should be able to express their ideas on the Internet, even if those ideas are extreme. Twenty-two percent of respondents disagreed with full expression of ideas, even if extreme.
SOURCE University of Southern California
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