As governments around the world plan moves to implement tighter controls over major technology firms like Google, Twitter and Facebook, a survey of Internet users across 12 countries has shown that over two thirds of people (67%) are not confident that politicians have a good enough understanding to regulate the Internet.
The online survey, carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Internet Society, a global nonprofit organization that advocates for an open, globally connected and secure Internet, underscores how the coronavirus pandemic has made the Internet critical to the functioning of our economies. The Internet has scaled seamlessly during the pandemic, enabling nearly half (48%) of those surveyed globally to continue working and learning.
The polling results come as more governments across the world eye proposals that threaten the Internet. These include the potential removal of intermediary liability protection and other laws that could threaten innovation on the Internet. A highly contentious debate over the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the US, the proposed Digital Services Act package in the European Union, the upcoming Online Harms Bill in the United Kingdom, and threats to upend Brazil’s Civil Rights Framework for the Internet are just some examples.
In the US during this Congress there have been 22 attempts to change Section 230, including 11 in the last three months alone. Incoming President Joe Biden has also called for Section 230 to be amended, a regulatory change which, if poorly designed, could subject smaller companies, start up platforms and other Internet infrastructure intermediaries to stifling regulation and litigation.
The Internet Society’s survey results showed that globally, nearly two in five (39%) people have turned to the Internet for services during the pandemic that they would never previously have accessed online. This figure rose to two thirds (66%) of people living in countries with lower rates of Internet penetration, such as Lebanon, Mexico, Colombia, South Africa and India, where the use of online services was less of a norm pre-pandemic.
Three in five Internet users reported using the Internet for banking (60%) and shopping (60%), while two in five reported making phone calls (41%), watching video content (39%) and accessing news and content from other countries (38%) since the start of the pandemic.
Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Senior Vice President of the Internet Society, said:
“Our survey reflects the widely held concern that politicians are either unequipped or unwilling to work in the interests of an open Internet that benefits everyone. During the pandemic, the Internet has been a lifeline for millions around the world. The increasing centrality of the Internet to our lives makes it even more essential that the Internet remains global and open, so that everyone around the world can benefit from the unique capacity for innovation and adaptation that is built into the fundamental architecture of the Internet.”
The Internet Society is warning that politicians around the world could damage the fundamental architecture of the Internet through poorly informed regulations. That is why the Internet Society is calling on policymakers to use the Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit – an analysis that helps policymakers design, implement and measure the impact of regulation – to make informed and focused decisions.