Nearly half of internet users globally now turn on ad blockers and social media continues to attract new users despite an increase in privacy concerns.

A clear majority of internet users say they are concerned about how their personal information is being manipulated by companies and the threat of fake news.

Those are some of the takeaways from the Digital 2020 report by global agency We Are Social and Hootsuite.

According to the annual report, 3.8 billion people now use social media, and just one company, Facebook, is far and away the most used platform. The continued social media dominance, which nets the company billions each year, comes despite years of data collection and privacy scandals, and a steadfast refusal to fact check claims or remove false information found in political advertising.

60 per cent of the world online

Data from the report shows another steady increase in the proportion of people coming online as well as an increase in how much time they spend on internet-connected devices.

4.54 billion people are now online, a year-on-year increase of 298 million, or 7 per cent, bringing the “digital divide” or internet penetration rate to 60 per cent, according to the report. 

Source: We Are Social, Digital 2020.

Each user spends on average more than six and a half hours online each day, equivalent to more than 100 days each year. Those figures vary considerably based on location: Philippines users spend 9 hours and 45 minutes per day online while internet users in Japan are online less than four and a half hours.

But the average global time is down slightly and users are reporting concerns over data misuse and fake news, as well as a propensity to block online ads where possible.

Privacy concerns

64 per cent of internet users aged 16-64 say they worry about how companies use their data. More than half (56 per cent) of over 18s say they are concerned about the spread of fake news online. And nearly half of internet users are now using ad blockers, according to the We Are Social report. 

The concerns sit at odds with most users’ social media of choice, Facebook, a company which used users’ data to deliver more than $US 20 billion in highly targeted advertising last quarter and has been embroiled in a raft of data privacy and disinformation scandals.

Facebook remains the dominant social platform, with 2.45 billion monthly active users and billions more when its subsidiary platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram are accounted for.

Source: We Are Social, Digital 2020.

Suzie Shaw, managing director, Sydney, We Are Social said the latest report highlighted Australia’s increasing engagement with Facebook but warned users may want more control over data in the future. 

“We make ten monthly comments per user on Facebook, second only to the Philippines,” Shaw said. “Time spent on social in Australia is going up both in our personal and professional lives. We’re also a nation that’s clearly comfortable with flexing our online spending power.

“However, that’s just one side of the story. We’re also concerned about data misuse; likely as a result, our tendency to use ad blockers has grown. With more people in Australia spending time on social media, online shopping, gaming and using smart devices, privacy concerns are only going to increase. 

“The next significant change may be people demanding more control over the data they are willing to give away.”

Facebook last week flagged privacy and regulatory “headwinds” it expects will hurt its bottom line and has pledged to deliver a more privacy-focused platform over the next decade.

But it has also refused to remove false claims by political parties in the lead up to next years’ US presidential election, sparking fears the campaign will become toxic with the spreading of disinformation.

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