Technology adoption crystalizes privacy concerns

Technology makes the world a better place, but this comes at a price. Two different surveys released by technology vendors provide complementary angles on the use of technology and its impact on privacy

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“Personal technology is making the world better and more vital.” This statement can be found on the summary slide of a presentation delivered this week in Davos by Microsoft’s chief strategy officer. For the second time, Microsoft surveyed 12,002 Internet users in 12 countries. The results are quite interesting; a summary can be found in a blog, and the full survey is also available.

In the same timeframe, Restlet, a vendor of API management technology, released the results of its own survey Digital Connection in the US. While the sample is much smaller (530 respondents, U.S. only) and the delivery forum is less prestigious (no Davos presence for Restlet), the results are quite enlightening and converge with Microsoft’s findings.

Impact of technology on life

Restlet asked if connected objects were improving quality of life, to which 47 percent responded “significantly” and 33 percent “a little” (20 percent said “no”): a total of 80 percent of respondents think that connected objects are improving their quality of life. Microsoft asked the question a bit differently, focusing on personal technology’s impact on the world: 85 percent of respondents answered that personal technology is making the world a better place to live. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of people believe that technology is useful and improve their lives.

How much are people using technology?

We have two distinct but complementary angles on this topic. According to Restlet’s survey, more than half of consumers (51 percent) can’t tolerate being offline for more that a few hours, and 11 percent of them need to be online all the time. The same survey reveals that 62 percent of respondents connect with two or more devices -- in decreasing order of popularity: smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, console/TV/cable, car.

Microsoft’s report brings another dimension: what users think of this “online addiction.” Here the results are clear: 62 percent of users in developed countries think technology makes people less fit due to the amount of time they spend in front of a screen, and 56 percent of parents in developed countries would prefer their children to have less access to technology (“do as I say, not as I do”).

Technology and privacy

As the saying goes, if you want to live happy, live hidden. Well, tough luck -- technology and the connected world pretty much preclude this. Nobody but the most fanatical privacy zealots surf using Tor, encrypt their email with 2,048-bit keys, and absolutely refuse to fill out any online form. The average Internet user is deeply exposed to tracking, breaches, identity theft and more. The silver lining is that they are more and more aware of this – even though there isn’t much they can do about it.

Microsoft’s survey asked about the impact of personal technology on privacy. Sixty-four percent of users in developed countries answered the impact was mostly negative, versus 10 percent mostly positive. Interestingly, this view is more contrasted in developing countries: 45 percent negative vs. 21 percent positive, which might be explained by the fact that some of these developing countries have only recently become democracies and concerns about privacy as we know it in the “developed” world are relatively new there.

Restlet asked a more pointed question: “Are you concerned about the safety and privacy of your data when you use a connected device or object?” to which only 11 percent responded they were not concerned. Thirty percent are “extremely concerned,” 28 percent “quite concerned,” and 31 percent “a little concerned.” Indeed, these GPS, fitness trackers, smart watches, and other know where you are and what you do at all times. If you want to benefit from their analytics and intelligence, you have no choice but to let them send the information to their home base, hoping they know what they’re doing to secure it.

Quality of service

The last nugget I found interesting in Restlet’s survey has no parallel in Microsoft’s report: it deals with the quality of service delivered through connected technology. Consumers have come to expect a greater synchronicity of information in a multichannel environment. For example, when you place an order online, then call a contact center to inquire about this order, you expect the agent to have your information at their fingertips. In real life, it does not happen all the time. In fact, according to Restlet’s report, only 14 percent of respondents are confident that their service providers always do a good job with regards to managing this information. There is clearly room for improvement there.

Disclaimer: I am a strategic adviser to Restlet and I contributed to the design of the survey. I had nothing to do with Microsoft’s survey, however.

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