‹ Back
Building Trust 13 June 2019

The State of User Privacy and Trust Online

Executive Summary

Since its inception five years ago, the annual CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust (the Survey)[1] has provided a global litmus test into user perceptions of the Internet and their security and privacy online. With five years of survey results, the Internet Society and the Centre for International Governance Innovation developed this report to highlight some of the Survey’s most important findings and trends.

While user trust in the Internet remains high, with 74% of users saying they trust the Internet in 2019, privacy concerns are even more widespread and continue to grow year to year. Users continue to point to cybercriminals as a major source of distrust and online privacy concerns, but not as their only source of concern. Rather than being seen as improving online security and privacy, many respondents also see governments, social media, and Internet companies as contributors to distrust in the Internet or online privacy concerns.

The Survey also highlights the widely different experiences of Internet users across income and education levels— particularly when faced with online trust challenges. Those with positions of privilege—the rich, well-educated and/ or male, are consistently more likely than the less privileged to take actions that can effectively improve their online trust and privacy.

High rates of online privacy concerns and inequalities in digital security and privacy must be addressed. No single stakeholder can tackle these challenges alone. All stakeholders need to take action to improve trust and privacy online.

  • Stakeholders should enable, and not restrict, the use of trust and privacy-enhancing tools, such as encryption or virtual private networks (VPNs). They can take steps to foster the development new, affordable and usable tools; use procurement to drive demand for better security and privacy; and improve user understanding of security and privacy tools through digital literacy and capacity building initiatives.
  • Stakeholders should create an enabling environment for online privacy and Internet trust by addressing inequalities in education, income and opportunities with targeted solutions such as incorporating cybersecurity literacy into their educational and ICT national strategies.
  • Stakeholders should take collaborative actions to mitigate the trust and privacy risks posed by cybercrime and other threats by improving information sharing of threats, incidents, mitigations, and the implementation of norms; and highlighting successes and explaining cybersecurity failures to improve user perceptions of security and privacy online.
  • Stakeholders should strengthen online privacy and Internet trust through their own actions, not weaken them. Data collectors and handlers can improve privacy and trust by practicing strong privacy and data handling hygiene; stakeholders can implement cybersecurity best practices to protect themselves and those who rely on their services; and stakeholders can build and maintain systems that make pervasive surveillance harder, not easier.
  • Stakeholders should foster more reliable and secure networks by avoiding Internet shutdowns and investing in local and regional ICT infrastructure that improve Internet reliability and security.


In recent years, user trust in the Internet has faced considerable obstacles. Major security breaches, such as the Equifax breach, have exposed the personal and financial information of millions.[2] Government surveillance continues to occur, with new AI-based biometrics and IoT devices expanding the gaze of governments into the physical world via the Internet.[3] Fake content (sometimes referred to as “fake news”) is increasing in both volume and sophistication, causing polarization, confusion, and political discord.[4] Meanwhile, the advertisingbased business model on the World Wide Web continues to push businesses to collect, process, and monetize user data in ways that are unexpected, disorienting, and often unwelcome.[5]

News of surveillance, data breaches, fake news, and other problems seem like a recipe for user distrust in the Internet. Yet, user trust remains resilient, although users seem to have a conflicted view of the Internet. In 2019, a large majority of users across 25 economies—nearly three quarters—trusted the Internet overall, even as nearly eight in ten said they have serious concerns about online privacy.

In the 2019 CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust (“the Survey”), Internet users point to cybercriminals, Internet companies, other Internet users, and governments as major sources of their distrust in the Internet and concerns about online privacy.

How Internet users react to trust and privacy concerns depends on who they are. Often, when faced with challenges, those with greater privilege (higher income, education, or male) are more likely to take action, either through simple steps or more sophisticated countermeasures, to try to improve their online security and privacy. However, those with less privilege often tend to perform only the most basic of mitigations. Those who are more disadvantaged are also more likely to report doing nothing at all in response to distrust.

This gap between the privileged and less privileged could have very serious consequences for a fair future for the Internet, particularly as the next billion users will come from less developed economies and likely less privileged circumstances.

About the CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust

The CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust is currently in its fifth iteration.[6] The Survey is conducted yearly by Ipsos[7] on behalf of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI),[8] the Internet Society,[9] and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).[10]

The 2019 survey collected the views of more than 25,000 Internet users from 25 economies: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong (China), India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States.

The 2019 Survey was carried out online and in face-to face interviews between December 21, 2018 and February 10, 2019. Face-to-face Interviews were held in Pakistan, Tunisia, Kenya and Nigeria. Each year, approximately 1,000+ individuals were surveyed in each economy and the results are weighted to match the population in each economy surveyed. As participation in the interviews is voluntary, the respondents were self-selected and it is unlikely that the same individuals were interviewed year to year.

The precision of Ipsos online polls is calculated using a credibility interval. For the 2019 Survey, a poll of 1,000 is accurate to +/- 3.5 percentage points. For the face-to-face interviews, the margin of error is +/-3.1, 19 times out of 20. These margins of error are consistent throughout the five iterations of the Survey.

The Survey also collected demographic information from respondents, allowing for closer analysis, not only the economy level, but also between users of different ages, education levels, household incomes, and genders.

In the US and Canada, respondents were aged 18-64. Respondents in all other economies were aged 16-64. Respondents were also divided into classifications for both household income level and education level. The thresholds for low, medium, and high levels of household income or education varied by economy and were based off of census groupings and categories by Ipsos. For example, in India, respondents with monthly household incomes of between Rs. 25,000 (360 USD) and Rs. 100,000 (1,442 USD) were classified as having medium household income. In China, respondents with monthly household incomes of between 3000 yuan (434 USD) and 7,499 yuan (1085 USD) were classified as medium household income.

Continue reading or download the full report


[1] The CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust is conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), in partnership with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Internet Society
[2] https://www.internetsociety.org/blog/2017/09/post-equifax-need-reconsider-identify-people/
[3] https://www.cigionline.org/articles/state-and-surveillance
[4] https://www.cigionline.org/articles/beware-fake-news
[5] https://www.internetsociety.org/blog/2018/04/larger-facebook-cambridge-analytica-question-really-signed/
[6] https://www.cigionline.org/internet-survey-2019
[7] https://www.ipsos.com/en
[8] https://www.cigionline.org/about
[9] https://www.internetsociety.org/about-internet-society/
[10] https://unctad.org/en/Pages/aboutus.aspx

‹ Back

Related articles

Building Trust 31 August 2020

Policy Toolkit on IoT Security and Privacy

The Policy Toolkit on IoT Security and Privacy is a practical resource for policymakers and regulators to strengthen the...

Building Trust 1 November 2019

Security Factsheet: Keeping Your Workplace Safe Online

For many of us the Internet is a staple in our day-to-day lives – especially at our jobs. But...

Building Trust 1 November 2019

Security Factsheet: Why Should Municipalities Make Network and Data Security a Priority?

Communities can minimize risk by being intentional about how and by whom networks and devices are used. These are...