Five ‘blind spots’ to digital understanding

The UK faces five ‘blind spots’ on digital understanding – from how data is collected, to where our news comes from to how tech services make money – digital think tank Doteveryone says in a new research report this week, calling for new codes of practice and trusted independent information.

people power tech understandingThere’s a big difference between having digital – knowing how to use the internet  – and having understanding  –  knowing the implications of using the internet, Doteveryone says this week, arguing that “digital understanding is not about being able to code, it’s about being able to cope.”

Doteveryone’s 2018 Digital Understanding Report is the second of two ‘people, power and technology’ research documents into UK public perceptions of technology. A first report, published earlier this year, looked into Britain’s attitudes to tech. That found that, while the internet has a strongly positive impact on people’s lives, just 12% think it benefits society.

The new report identifies five ‘blind spots’ to the UK public’s understanding of technologies:

  • Targeted ads – 45% are unaware that information they enter online helps target ads
  • How data is collected – 83% are unaware information can be collected about them that others share
  • How prices vary – 47% have not noticed that prices change when they search repeatedly for them online
  • Where our news comes from – 62% don’t realise their social networks affect the news they see
  • How tech services make money – 24% don’t know how tech companies make money.

“It is not just the technical complexity which is unseen – the implications of using technologies are also obscure,” says the report. “People do not need to be able to read the code behind Facebook – but they should expect to be able to know who has access to their data. They should not need to be able to unpick an algorithm – but they should be able to know if they’re paying a higher price than the next person.”

Doteveryone says the lack of understanding is not the fault of the public but a result of digital technologies themselves not being understandable – and it is calling on the creators of products and services to “make understandability the building block of everyone’s digital experience”.

The report calls for:

  • New codes of practice for design and consent in the technology industry – so that products and services do the hard work to be understandable
  • A central, trusted and independent source of information – with clear, up-to-date plain English explanations of the key aspects of digital understanding
  • Public engagement to support digital understanding at all levels of society – not just for children and with a specific focus on digital leadership for public institutions.

Doteveryone was founded in 2015 by founder Martha Lane Fox to help create “a fairer internet for everyone”. It exists to show businesses, government and public how to make Britain “the most digital nation on the planet” and achieve that in the most ethical way possible.

Writing in this week’s report, Lane Fox says: “Building our understanding can help give us resilience in a time of technological change. With greater understanding – as individuals and as a society – we will be better able to harness the opportunities technologies present. The need for this understanding is urgent.”

The report concludes that “most people are not in the position to be able to set the digital agenda. Instead we are calling on those who set the rules and make ethical and moral choices behind how technology is made and consumed to take action.”

Using Doteveryone’s new ‘digital understanding’ model, researchers surveyed the UK population to see what level people reach in their lives as individuals, consumers, workers and members of society.

BritainThinks surveyed 2,538 respondents in total, the vast majority online, from 4-6 December 2017.

People, Power and Technology: the 2018 Digital Understanding Report

AgendaSetters: Doteveryone’s good internet fight