The Swedes and the internet 2014

An annual study of the Swedish people's internet habits

8. Privacy, surveillance and policy

Unpleasant things can happen when one uses the internet. The internet is an open network and if one has an e-mail address, anyone can send whatever they like to that address. But there is also a hidden side that we normally are not aware of. It is something that happens in the background and even if many have all types of different kinds of protective walls, it does not prevent those who want to get into our computers.

That criminals are not only the only ones interested in your computer and what types of messages you send has long been known. There are also different authorities that have been interested in monitoring and registering what is said and from who to whom the messages go. In 2009, the government decided that Försvarets Radioanstalt (National Defense Radio Establishment – FRA) would have broad powers over signals of telephone and internet traffic. It has also been shown that telephone operators save customers’ private information.

The extent of this activity of monitoring traffic on the internet became more clear when Edward Snowden, in the summer of 2013, put forth evidence that the American NSA (National Security Agency) registered mobile and internet traffic worldwide. It also found that the Swedish FRA had worked in close cooperation with the NSA, and that many of the large internet companies, like Google and Facebook, delivered data to the NSA.

These large internet companies, like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, in turn register a lot of information about all of its many millions of customers that they primarily use for advertisements. There has also been considerable discussion around this in the past year. How has this affected people’s concern about being monitored and recorded on the internet? Do they feel that their privacy is threatened?

Next: Internet and traditional media

Diagram 8.1. Number of internet users who agree (4)or disagree completely (5) on a five-point scale. Show as table Download

Great concern that had been reduced is now slightly increased

14 years ago, when half of the Swedish people had begun to use the internet, there was widespread concern that the internet would increase opportunities for monitoring and control. (Findahl, Soi 2000). Half of the population (51%) agreed with this concern for monitoring and even more were among those who already used the internet. Two out of three internet users (63%) felt that the internet facilitated opportunities for monitoring.

The more people started using the internet and with increasing experience, the less concern they expressed, and three years ago in 2011, there were only a few, around 10 percent, that felt some concern over authorities and companies monitoring and registering what they did on the internet. When the question was repeated this year, the concern was still not widespread but it had slightly increased. They were especially concerned with the big internet companies’ monitoring. In 2011, 14 percent said they were concerned that companies checked what they did on the internet. Today the figure has risen to 20 percent. A concern that the government monitoring what people did in 2011 covered about 7 percent of the population, which has increased to 10 percent in 2014.

When the question is specified, so that it mentions privacy and says “authorities” instead of “the government”, and instead of “companies” name Google and Facebook, the numbers of concerned rose. A quarter (27%) are concerned that large companies like Google and Facebook encroach on their privacy and one in five (19%) are concerned over the authorities doing the same.

Diagram 8.2. Number of internet users who agree (4) or disagree completely (5) on a five-point scale. Show as table Download

Here, the difference is small between different generations and between women and men. But in questions about being nervous about other people infringing on personal privacy, there is a large difference between generations. Many of the younger (16-25), who have many new contacts on the internet do not agree with this concern. Throughout, we can see that around a third of internet users are not at all concerned that their privacy can be disturbed. A third are concerned, and a third answer neither.


Diagram 8.3. Number of internet users who agree (4+5) in different statements about their privacy and the number who do not agree (1+2) on a five-point scale. Show as table Download

Internet and privacy?

Most (84%) disagree with the statement that “privacy no longer exists and I accept that.” Those who agree with the statement (16%) are in all ages with predominance on the oldest. There are also not many (23%) who think that concern over privacy is exaggerated. Most (41%) think that the concern is justified.

At the same time as many think concern is justified, many (67%) say that they have nothing to hide. Half (52%) believe they can control their own privacy, which means that the other half is unsure if they can. Half also say that they actively protect their privacy.

A majority of those who are not concerned say that they have nothing to hide and they can control their privacy and therefore are not especially worried. In these attitudes, there is also a connection to the feeling that concern over privacy is exaggerated. The number who think that the concern is exaggerated is not so high, but strongest among the young. Here, there is also a connection with the notion that there privacy no longer exists, and that it should be accepted.

Those who are concerned believe that there is something called privacy, that they are not sure they can control their privacy, and the concern is not exaggerated.



Diagram 8.4. Number of internet users who report that they have been violated online and the effects this had. Show as table Download

How many have had their privacy violated on the internet?

When asked if they had ever had their privacy violated on the internet, almost all answered no. Those who answered yes were mostly the young and most yes answers were in the group of ages 16 to 25. Here, 14% answered that their privacy was violated at some time. (See Chapter 7 about Children and Youth.)

The most violations that occurred seem to be less serious as they did not lead to any major problems. With one percent, the violations impacted personal relationships. Violations that affected work/careers or had financial consequences were vey few and did not amount to one percent.


Diagram 8.5. Number of internet users who have taken various measures to protect themselves. Show as table Download

What does one do to protect themselves?

Are there steps taken to try to take control over what comes into the computer? Yes, the most common is to now and then clean the cache (44%) and take away “cookies” from earlier connections to different internet sites. This is however usually a measure to speed up a computer that has started to slow down. Advertising blockers are something one can activate to avoid some ads and one in five (22%) have done this. Both of these more technical measures are done by men twice as often as women and when it comes to ad-blockers, there are more than twice as many of the young (16-25) that have installed this compared to the elderly (55+). A third of the women cannot answer these questions as they are unsure what the question means.

19 percent of internet users have taken other actions, in addition to the above, to feel more secure. Among these are users in all ages and include 25 percent of men and 13 percent of women. The largest majority (81%) of internet users have not taken any special precautions to protect themselves, which especially affects young women (16-25) where 94 percent have not taken any precautions. Among those 19 percent that have done something, the most common action mentioned is installing different virus protection (35%) and firewalls (23%). However, there is also the use of more advanced forms of encryption (22%) to protect themselves and 10 percent of those who took additional measures use VPN (Virtual Private Network) to surf anonymously with encryption and change of ip-address. This is equivalent to one percent of all internet users. It also happens that one often changes their ip-address or uses a ghost-ip. Some individuals use the anonymity service Tor.

Diagram 8.6. Number of those who have done something more than using ad blockers or cleaning the cache memory and the action taken (19% of the internet users). Show as table Download

It is above all the men who partake in these actions and they are usually officials or self-employed. We can suppose that there is a connection to their work. For most internet users, protective measures are a matter of technical intricacies that they do not know how to handle and that they do not feel they have the need of.


What problems have people encountered the most?

The most common problem that every third internet user (30%) encountered was that they had received false requests from government agencies, banks or game companies asking them to send bank and credit card information. Just as many (30%) have involuntarily ended up on a pornographic website without actually choosing it.

Two out of five (18%) have gotten a virus in their computer. This is an old problem but the proportion with virus problems is lower today than it was ten years ago when nearly half of those with access to broadband said that they had problems with viruses in their computer. (Findahl, Soi 2003).

Unpleasant and offensive e-mails occur in all ages (7%), not just among the young but about the same in all ages, as well as buying something on the internet that did not match what was advertised on the internet site the item was bought from (6%). Bullying on the internet (3%) primarily affects the young (12-15) where one out of ten have been subjected to this. Among the young (12-15) it is mainly the girls who are affected. This is twice as much as compared with the boys.

For adolescents it is however more common with “traditional” bullying in real life than on the internet, which has been shown in an earlier survey. In total, 25 percent of those in that survey had been harassed during the past year, with 15 percent in person, 9 percent on the internet and 6 percent on the mobile phone. Most who reported bullying on the internet, so called ”cyber bullying”, were also victims of traditional bullying.

When parents were asked about their children (12-15), 30 percent answered that they had some negative experiences from their use on the internet. However, it did not seem to be recurring, but isolated incidents. For two (2) percent of children in the ages of 12-15, negative things happened about once a month.

For children between the ages of 7 and 11, 20 percent say that it happens sometimes, and for one percent it happens about once a month. 2 percent report having their credit card information stolen on the internet. In the early days of online shopping, worry was large regarding credit card use on the internet. In 2003 there were 58 percent who reported they were “very” or “fairly” worried about credit card fraud. In the year 2013, the number sunk to 19 percent. According to the Crime Prevention Council (2014), 2 to 3 percent were exposed to fraud and a third of cases took place on the internet.


Which problems and difficulties have people experienced on the internet?

Asked to provide bank details 30%
Ended up on pornographic site 30%
Getting a virus on the computer 18%
Received unpleasant/offensive emails 7%
Bought misleading products 6%
Bullied or harassed 3%
Credit card information stolen 2%

Table 8.1. Number of internet users who have experienced different problems and difficulties on the internet. 


Freedom of expression on the internet

Three out of four (72%) agree with the statement that people should have the right to criticize their government on the internet. Very few are against this. However, many think that there are limits to this freedom of expression while 39 percent think it is ok even if the ideas are extreme. Adolescents (50%) have the most tolerance.

When it comes to their own views, two out of three (67%) feel safe to say what they want about politics. At the same time, only one in four (24%) think it is safe to say what they want about politics on the internet. There is a general concern here for monitoring and registering on the internet but if one has nothing to hide and can control their privacy, they then feel safe to say what they want about politics.

The idea that the government should create stricter regulations on the internet however has very weak support (15%). A majority (55%) is against this. This is the same majority as in 2011. When the same question about increased regulation is mentioned in connection with the fact that there is a lot of content unsuitable for children on the internet, the answer is different. In this case, 62 percent say that it is necessary with regulation. (Findahl, Soi 2008).

How should freedom of expression work on the internet?

The government should regulate the Internet more than is done today. 15%
On the internet, it is safe to say what you think about politics 24%
It’s OK that people express their opinions on the internet, even if they are extreme 39%
Generally speaking, I feel safe to say what I want about politics 67%
People should have the opportunity to criticize their government online. 72%

Table 8.2. Number of the population who agree (4) or disagree completely (5) in a series of allegations on a five-point scale where 1 means strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree and fully.


Diagram 8.8. Number of the population that agree (4) or do not agree completely (5) in a series of statements in a five-point scale where 1 means strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree and fully. Show as table Download

Does the internet deepen democracy?

Sweden distinguished itself early as a country with a quick internet distribution. At the same time there was wide skepticism about the visions of the internet’s role to deepen democracy and revitalize politics. Only 11 percent agreed in 2003 with the statement that the internet would make it easier for people to understand politics, and even fewer (6%) believed that the internet would make it easier to influence the government, that the people would get more political power or that the internet would lead to authorities caring more about what people think.

But the more experience the Swedish people get using the internet, the more they get a positive outlook on the internet’s role. In 2011 the number of those positive had increased manifold, and a third (31%) agreed with the statement that the internet could make it easier for people to understand politics. Around 20 percent believed it would be easier to influence the government, that the people would get more political power, and that the authorities would care more about what people think.

But since 2011, this positive trend, concerning the internet and politics, has leveled off and very little has changed in the opinion during the past three years. Instead, there are fewer who believe that the internet will lead to the people having more political power. In total, there is a strong majority that is still skeptical about the internet’s ability to deepen democracy.


Sweden is different from other countries

Sweden differs from many other countries as the perception of the internet’s role in political life is much more positive. This applies to major countries like the U.S., Canada, Australia and England, but also to developing countries like China and South Korea (WIP 2013). At the same time, the concern for government and corporate monitoring is significantly greater in those countries than in Sweden.


Diagram 8.7. Number of the population who agree (4) or disagree completely (5) in a series of statements in a five-point scale where 1 means strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree and fully. Show as table Download

Younger people have more confidence in the internet than the older

If we compare the different generations’ outlook on the role of the internet in politics, the differences are large. The young are much more positive. 38 percent of the younger (16-35) believe that the internet has made it easier to influence the government, compared to 25 percent of the middle-aged (36-55) and 12 percent of the older (56+). 55 percent of the younger (16-35) believe that the internet has made it easier to understand politics compared to 36 percent in the middle-aged (36-55) and 24 percent of the older (56+).

There is an age group, those in the ages of 26-35, who are on average more positive toward the internet: 30 percent of them believe that the people will get more political power with the internet compared to an average in the population of 11 percent. 24 percent believe that the internet makes the authorities care more about what the people think compared to an average of 19 percent.


Diagram 8.9. Number of internet users (16+ years) in different ages who search for politics on the internet. Show as table Download

Does one get information about politics on the internet?

Younger people not only have more faith in the internet and a more positive view of the internet’s role for democracy than the older, they are also more active in seeking political information on the internet. Half do it sometimes and a quarter do it at least once or a few times a week.

If we look at the population’s interest for information about politics on the internet in a longer perspective, there have been small gradual changes. There are currently more interested in political information on the internet than seven years ago, and the number of those who do it regularly at least once a week has risen from 5 percent in 2007 to 12 percent in 2014.

Diagram 8.10. Number of the population who during different years have used the internet to check information on politics Show as table Download


Diagram 8.11. Number of the population that feel completely and largely a part of the new information society. Show as table Download

The feeling of inclusion has grown

The increasing internet usage with more and more people using tablets and smartphones many times a day and increased internet time has led to a rise in the number of the population feeling largely or completely that they are involved in the information society. During many years, the number of participants has remained around 60 percent. Now it has risen to 65 percent.

If we look closer at what has happened during the past year, there have been increases in all age groups, especially among young pensioners. But just as earlier, the younger in the ages of 16 to 45 feel the most involved. 8 out of 10 of them feel largely or completely involved in the information society.

Diagram 8.12. Number of the population in different ages who feel completely or largely involved in the new information society. Show as table Download

Interestingly, the differences between men and women, which in the 1990s were very clear, are almost gone today. And among those in the ages of 12-15, the feeling of inclusion is larger among girls (64%) than among boys (55%). It is also the young girls who are the most active on social networks.


Internet is most important to the well-educated

How important is the internet experience for people in private and everyday life, in work and in studies? On average, a third think the internet is very important for their private life and another third think that the internet is important. In total, three out of four (36+36=72%) of those who use the internet think the internet is important for private life and rate the importance as 4 or 5 on a five-point scale.

The differences however are very large. The internet experience is most important for those in the ages of 16 to 45 with the peak around the twenties (16-25) where half think that the internet is very important. At the top are young women with 57 percent that believe the internet is very important to them compared to an average of 36 percent.

The higher education one has, the more important one thinks that the internet is in their daily life. This does not apply however for the younger part of the population up to 45 years old where the differences between educational groups are small, but for those who are older than 45.

Even in work life, the internet is most important to those with a higher education. This applies to all ages. Here two out of three (67%) think that the internet is very important for them in their work.



There were great expectations among the “experts” in the 1990s that the internet would completely change political life, but in the population, there was a lot of skepticism. Few believed that the internet would lead to a deepening of democracy. Many instead were worried that the internet would allow monitoring and registration and many did not trust in the safety of paying with a credit card over the internet. People were scared of credit card fraud.

The concern over credit card fraud has gradually declined as well as concern for monitoring by authorities and corporations until a few years ago. During the most recent years, the concern has increased over what large companies like Google and Facebook are up to. But a large majority of users (73%) say they are not worried.

Although most say they have nothing to hide (67%) and are not the victim of having their privacy violated (94%), most (84%) believe that their privacy is important and that concern over threats are not exaggerated. (77%).

The most common problem that shows up on the internet, which affects a third of users, is fake requests to give out bank and account information. Just as common is accidentally ending up on pornographic sites. Harassment and bullying occur but are not as common. This affects 3 percent of users but is more common among the young.

A majority (81%) has not done anything special to protect themselves against intrusion and monitoring. One in five (19%) have installed special anti-virus protection or a firewall. Only one percent of all internet users have taken special precautions to stay anonymous.

When it comes to relations between the government and its citizens, the very skeptic attitude to the internet’s role in politics has become less skeptic, especially among the young, but even here the changes have been small during the last year. A large majority is still skeptical about the internet’s possibility to deepen democracy.

Most think freedom of expression on the internet should be large. It should be possible to criticize the government and it is ok even for extreme views. More than a third (39%) however, do not think extreme views are ok even if few (15%) think the government should regulate more than what is done today. Generally, most (67%) feel secure in saying what they want about politics but only 24 percent agree that it is safe to express what you want about politics on the internet. Behind this, there is a concern about what can happen when you say something on the internet.

Before every election since the end of the 1990s, expectations have been large that now the internet’s breakthrough will happen. Now comes the first internet election, where the internet will play a decisive and dominant role. But up until 2014, this has not yet happened in Sweden. Not in the EU elections in 2004, not during the parliamentary election in 2006, or 2010. (Findahl, Soi 2011). Any evaluation of the 2014 election has a time of writing not been done.