Digital divergence: Microsoft poll shows striking differences in attitudes toward technology between Internet users in developing and developed countries

DAVOS, Switzerland — Jan. 19, 2015 — A survey of Internet users around the world conducted by Microsoft Corp. shows an overwhelming majority believes personal technology is making the world a better place to live and has vastly improved how they shop, work, learn and generally get things done.

There are nonetheless notable differences in certain attitudes toward personal technology between developed and developing economies. Developing countries express widespread enthusiasm about the benefits of technology — including its impact on social bonds, the sharing economy and personal fitness — while developed countries, where technology is more ubiquitous, express concerns about emerging issues.

Microsoft unveiled the results of its new survey Monday in advance of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The report, titled “Views from Around the Globe: 2nd Annual Poll on How Personal Technology Is Changing Our Lives,” encompasses the views of 12,002 Internet users in 12 countries. This is the second year in a row that the company has commissioned the study.

“Internet users overwhelmingly say that personal technology is making the world better and more vital,” said Mark Penn, Microsoft executive vice president and chief strategy officer. “But there is a digital divergence in the attitudes of Internet users in developing and developed countries regarding how technology will affect them going forward.”

Among the overall findings of the poll are these:

  • Majorities in all 12 countries surveyed think personal technology has had a positive impact on their ability to find more affordable products and start new businesses. They also say it has benefited social activism, as well as innovation in business.
  • A majority in nearly all of the countries thinks personal technology has improved productivity.
  • Compared with last year’s results, more respondents said technology has had a positive impact on transportation and literacy, while fewer said it has benefited social bonds, personal freedom and political expression. Concern about technology’s impact on privacy also jumped significantly.
  • Indeed, in 11 of the 12 countries, most Internet users said technology’s effect on privacy was mostly negative. Majorities in every country but India and Indonesia also said current legal protections for users of personal technology were insufficient, and only in those two countries did most people feel fully aware of the types of personal information collected about them.

As previously noted, attitudes toward technology in developing and developed economies diverged in several key emerging areas:

  • Sixty percent of Internet users in developing countries, compared with only 36 percent of people in developed countries, think personal technology has had a positive impact on social bonds.
  • Fifty-nine percent of people in developing countries think technology-enabled, sharing-economy services, such as Uber and Airbnb, are better for consumers than traditional services, such as taxis and hotels. By contrast, only 33 percent of people in developed countries think the new services are better for consumers.
  • Only 59 percent of people in developed countries, compared with 85 percent in developing countries, say they are interested in working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. And notably, while 77 percent of women in developing countries feel encouraged to work in STEM fields, only 46 percent of women in developed countries do.

The poll was conducted between Dec. 17, 2014, and Jan. 1, 2015, and surveyed Internet users in Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the U.S.

The results were then weighted based on the size of the Internet populations in each of the 12 countries. The full findings can be found at http://blogs.microsoft.com/?p=45963.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services, devices and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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