Millions of Germans 'fear' the web

BERLIN -- A new study reveals one-third of Germans classify as "digital outsiders". What could the digital divide mean for Europe's largest economy?
Written by Shannon Smith, Correspondent (Berlin)

BERLIN — Some 27 million citizens, or roughly one-third of the German population, surf the web never or rarely, according to a recent study by the German Institute for Trust and Security on the Internet (DIVSI).

The number is twice as high as formerly assumed, researchers say, and accompanies a wide — and apparently fear-driven — rift between so-called "digital natives" and "digital outsiders". A third category of people known as "digital immigrants" could also be identified.

The DIVSI commissioned the SINUS Institute to survey 2,047 representative Germans in 45-minute face-to-face interviews to determine their attitudes toward the internet with regard to trust and security, as well as their behavior with relation to the web.

It concluded that nearly 40% of people in Germany qualify as "digital outsiders", which accounts not only for people with no technical access to the internet, but also for people who feel too uncomfortable with the web to engage regularly.

"The internet represents a digital barrier to a world to which they feel excluded and to which they seem to find no access," the report’s summary explained, based on interviewees’ answers.

This contrasts starkly with about 41% of those questioned, who fall into the category of "digital native", meaning they grew up with web technology, have integrated it fully into their lives, and are seemingly trusting of it.

Meanwhile, a third category of "digital immigrants" accounted for those individuals who welcome the communicative advantages of the internet, but remain skeptical about privacy issues, especially with regard to social networks. Some 20% of those questioned qualified as such.

DIVSI director Matthias Kammer spoke to the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper about the potential consequences of such a rift, citing "diametrically opposed demands for security" and warning that the resulting conflict could lead to a rupture of "social solidarity".

He recommended that German politicians venture to fulfill the needs of every user group, and thereby strive for a healthy balance between freedom and security on the web.

A further study commissioned by the Morgenpost saw market research company GfK survey German residents about their relationship to Facebook, in which an astounding 46% of Germans said they were "afraid" of the social network.

"I was surprised that people with a higher level of education were less fearful of Facebook than those with lower-level degrees," Alexander Kolb of GfK said. “I was actually expecting more critical views [as the education level rose].”

But an education-level trend is limited in nature, the Morgenpost report noted, as nearly 60% of German 14 to 19-year-olds view Facebook as nothing more than "fun" and engage regularly with the community.

Photo: Flickr/amonja

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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