UK adults less concerned over internet despite privacy risks

29 March 2012

Levels of concern about the internet have fallen substantially in the UK over the past six years, however some users are still willing to take risks over their internet security and privacy settings, new research by Ofcom reveals.

UK adults' concerns about the internet have dropped steadily since 2005, falling from seven in ten (70 per cent) users to half (50 per cent) by 2011, with confidence online at high levels (84 per cent), according to Ofcom's Adults Media Use and Attitudes report.

The fall in concern comes as people are spending increasing amounts of time on the internet. The average user now says they are online for over 15 hours each week, an increase of five hours since 2005. The internet is increasingly part of people's everyday lives wherever they are, and eight in ten adults (79%) now go online on any device in any location - up by 20 percentage points compared to 2005.

Social networking is continuing to grow in popularity and three fifths of adult internet users (59 per cent) say they now have a profile on a social networking site. However, the increase has slowed, with a rise of five percentage points since 2010, compared to increases of ten percentage points in 2010 and 22 percentage points in 2009.

For those with a profile, social networking is increasingly becoming a part of their daily lives, with two-thirds (67 per cent) saying they visited the sites every day - up from one-third (30 per cent) in 2007. Accessing social media on a weekly basis via a mobile phone has almost doubled in the last year - from 15 per cent in 2010 to 29 per cent in 2011. Amongst smartphone users this increase is even greater, up from 39 per cent in 2010 to 55 per cent in 2011.

Online privacy

However, while internet usage and social networking is becoming commonplace some users are still willing to take risks online. A quarter of social networkers (26 per cent) in the UK say their personal information, such as their date of birth or hometown, can potentially be seen by people they do not know.

Furthermore, about one in six users (16 per cent) of social networking sites say they share their contact details with anyone or friends of friends. Three in five (61 per cent) only allow their friends to view their contact details, and a further 13 per cent say they don't have this information on their profile.

Since 2005, there has been little change in people's willingness to give out their personal information online. Three in ten (31 per cent) internet users said they would be happy to enter their credit or debit card details on websites, compared to 28 per cent in 2005.

However, adult internet users are increasingly choosing whether to enter such details based on “formal” signs like padlock signs and system messages, increasing from 43 per cent in 2005 to 56 per cent in 2011.

The research also finds that while most users are aware of terms and conditions and privacy statements on websites, one in four (24 per cent) say they never actually read them, with the same proportion saying they read them thoroughly.

Young people are less likely to read terms and conditions on a website. Some 35 per cent of 16-24s do not read them compared to only 14 per cent of those aged over 65. At the same time, those aged 16-24 are least likely to make a judgement about a website before entering their personal data.

Accessing the internet

Adults are increasingly turning to the internet for information. Seven in ten (68 per cent) users have accessed the internet to find details about public services, compared to half (49 per cent) in 2005. And eight in ten (79 per cent) have searched online for information about leisure time activities, up from six in ten (61 per cent) in 2005.

Affinity with the internet has also increased - with the proportion of adults who would most miss using the internet through a computer or laptop doubling in six years, up from eight per cent to 17 per cent by 2011.

However, those aged over 65 are less likely than other age-groups to be online - with some 51 per cent saying they do not intend to get the internet at home, compared to 15 per cent of the population as a whole.

Online safety

Three in ten (29 per cent) internet users said they have had a virus on their home PC in the past twelve months, with a similar number receiving unsolicited emails directing them to a website that asks them for personal information. Almost nine out of ten (87 per cent) home internet users who access through a PC, laptop or netbook said they have anti-virus software installed on their computers at home.

Ofcom works with bodies such as Get Safe Online and the UK Council for Child Internet Safety to provide information and guidance on internet safety and data privacy.



1. Ofcom's Adults media use and attitudes report is available at: The report on media literacy covers the use and attitudes of UK adults across the key platforms of the internet, television, radio, games and mobile phones.

2. 1823 adults aged 16 and over were interviewed as part of the research.

3. Section 11 of the Communications Act 2003 requires Ofcom to promote media literacy in the UK.

4. Ofcom works with a range of bodies such as UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) ( and Get Safe Online ( to support their work in the areas raised in this research.

5. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications, wireless communications and postal services.

6. For further information about Ofcom please visit: Ofcom's news releases can be found at: