The report contains a lot of interesting facts:
- A little more than half of the planet is still not connected to the Internet. As a planet, we still have a long way to go. While the largest percentage of a region still not online is in Africa, by sheer numbers, most of those still not connected are in Asia.
- Worldwide, men are 21% more likely to be online than women.
- Much of the world connects to broadband through cellphones, and the cost of broadband is a huge issue in many parts of the world. In Middle Africa, a gigabit of cellular broadband costs almost 12% of the average monthly income. In Western Africa, it’s over 8% and in Eastern Africa, it’s over 7.4%. Closer to home in Central America it’s 4%.
- Much of the world can’t afford smartphones. For example, in Sierra Leone it takes six months of an average salary to buy a smartphone. In India it takes 63 days of the average salary.
- Seven of the top ten largest companies in the world, by market capitalization, are Internet companies – Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Tencent, and Alibaba.
- Five of those companies – Amazon, Microsoft, Alibaba, Google, and Tencent – control 80% of all of the cloud traffic in the world, meaning that most other web applications run through these companies.
The report also contains many stories about some of the negative aspects of the web. A few include:
- The states of Rakhine and Chin in Myanmar have been blacked out from Internet access for over a year. Governments routinely block Internet access as a way to punish or control people. In addition to these two places, there was at least one other place in the world with blocked access every day in 2020.
- 2020 might go down as the year when Internet disinformation was weaponized with governments all over the world using social media to spread propaganda.
- The pandemic magnified the extent of the digital divide across the world. In many parts of the world, the education systems have effectively shut down for rural and poor urban students.
- Government data has been hacked. A good example is a hack in Chile where over 19 gigabytes of citizen data including passwords and personal identifying data was stolen.
- There are practically no binding guidelines anywhere in the world that set limits or define ethics for the newly developing artificial intelligence technology.
Of course, there are also positive things happening with the Internet:
- In the US and Europe, there is a major push to tackle antitrust abuses by the largest web companies.
- Europe is leading the world, but others are catching up in creating rules to enforce consumer privacy.
It’s easy to forget that the web only became a real thing in the mid-1990s. While there are clear problems associated with the web, it’s also amazing that in a little over 25 years we’ve connected half of the people on the planet.