The internet user of the future
It's now twenty years since the World Wide Web came into being. And last autumn we published the fourth edition of our report, Trends in Internet Use. Next month, we're following that up with a new report entitled Trends in Security and Identity. Our trend reports are widely read, because they provide a wealth of information about today's internet user. However, they don't say anything about the internet user of the future. How will people use the internet in years to come? What will the landscape be like in the mid-2020s? I'd like to highlight four trends and make four predictions.
Huge choice, via a small number of platforms
The internet is designed to be borderless, making it a driver of globalisation. It also rewards advantages of scale, because an extra client rarely means an extra server. Over the last decade or so, those two characteristics have led to the emergence of huge platforms that almost no one can avoid. Google, Facebook and shopping giants such as Ali Express dominate the landscape. In many countries, it's almost impossible to sell on line outside the platform environments.
Platforms have also benefitted from the rise of the smartphone: on our mobiles, we tend to use apps, and the number of different apps that we use in a month has stayed around forty for several years. So it's getting harder and harder for a newcomer to force a way in. It's no surprise, therefore, that major market players are increasingly profiling themselves as platforms (as Zalando has recently done). In the short term, users only gain: platforms offer them a wide range of choice in a very convenient format.
The internet user isn't anonymous any more
Making threats, hurling insults and abuse... it's all too easy on the internet. As a result, there's a growing chorus of calls for users to be identifiable. In the past, that would have been well-nigh impossible to realise in the Netherlands, since we haven't had a widely adopted and universally applicable digital identity system. DigiD has been around a while, but it's only for government services and a few related sectors. However, developments in this field are moving quickly. Partly for economic reasons. Digital identification opens the way for the straightforward on-line delivery of services that have so far depended on checks such as users sending photocopies of their passports.
One possible application is 'on-line speed cameras'. Five years from now, police scanner robots may be able to detect unlawful hate speech on social media in real time. Tweet something racist, and you may receive an automated penalty notice not much later.
Security as a basic requirement
People are now much more inclined to take their internet security seriously. That's clear from our new report Trends in Security. However, only 5 per cent are willing to pay for it. Future consumers will have more and more internet-connected devices in their homes. Yet, while 80 per cent see that a potential security hazard, few are willing to pay for protection.
Those circumstances could push the government and the business community to take on greater responsibility for keeping the public safe on line. Security will become a basic requirement. People expect the things they buy to be safe. But the business community has yet to take that fact on board. Their approach to cybersecurity focuses mainly on protecting their systems against hacking; they tend to overlook the security aspects of their products. Consumers are likely to penalise companies that are slow to change.
Strong internet, empowered user
With a personal digital identity, guaranteed basic security and access to a wide choice of suppliers, the internet user of the future may have much more power. Providing that he or she retains control over his or her data. The scope for doing that was greatly enhanced when the GDPR came into force last year. And our upcoming report Trends in Security & Identity shows that businesses and consumers are now taking the on-line use of personal data much more seriously. Clearly such legislation can have a profound impact.