In Sweden in 2021, the digital world is fully integrated into everyday life. We shop, work, and socialise online. We meet romantic partners on social media and find new friends on gaming platforms. But the digital transformation has a downside, with both harassment and fraud having found ways to infiltrate the internet. Many people lack the knowledge to use various internet tools, and many actively choose not to use digital services as they feel that they are not secure.
In this year's edition of the survey The Swedes and the Internet, a clear picture emerges of a society that is largely digitised and where online life for most people is a natural part of work, school, and spare time. Of the entire population in Sweden, 9 out of 10 use the internet every day, and every fifth person currently in a relationship met their partner online.
We also carry digital life with us, as mobile phones are the connected devices that are used most often. For instance, among students, 100 percent have a smartphone that they use regularly. At home, the internet is also constantly present. Aside from mobile phones, computers, and tablets, 7 out of 10 people have other connected devices in their homes, such as a connected smartwatch, and/or smart switches and lamps. Every sixth person has a voice-controlled, connected speaker.
It is evident that we are a digitally connected people as 9 out of 10 use various public e-services provided by, for example, The Swedish Tax Agency, The Swedish Social Insurance Agency, healthcare or the library. 6 out of 10 have a digital mailbox and every other person uses e-services to travel by public transport.
It is not only public services that we use on the internet. The majority of adult internet users pay for some kind of streaming media service, and more than half have played digital entertainment games in the past year. Almost half of all men also answer that they have watched online porn, and there is a big difference between men and women when it comes to their opinion regarding such issues. Five times more men than woman are in favor of legal pornography online.
During a year marked by the corona pandemic, a large part of work and education has taken place online. Half of Sweden’s workforce have worked from home in the last year. This has worked well, and 9 out of 10 want to continue working from home when the pandemic is completely over, but not as much. On average, full-time workers want to continue working from home 2.2 days a week.
School, on the other hand, has received a worse rating. Almost all high school and secondary high school students have had distance learning in the past year, but a majority of them prefer to receive teaching in a physical classroom. Most students also think that lessons in school provide a better education than distance learning - and this is an opinion also shared by the students' parents.
Young people online
Many parents think that they have a good knowledge of what their children do online, but most children state that their parents do not know everything. And in many ways, young people live their own digital lives, which differs from that of adults in terms of habits and usage. Some social media platforms, such as Tiktok, are largely used only by younger people. Among school children, 7 out of 10 follow a so-called streamer, influencer or youtuber online and it is not uncommon to hang out on digital gaming platforms with friends they have never met in real life. When young people follow current news it happens mainly on social media, and almost half of those born in the 2010s have paid to buy virtual objects or currencies in games.
The most active people using the internet and its various services are those born in the 90s, the decade when the internet became mainstream. This generation was the first to grow up alongside the internet and is the one that most of all listens to podcasts, watches streaming video services, uses social media and shops online.
Ignorance leads to exclusion
But amid this digital transformation, there are still some who do not use the internet at all, and it is almost exclusively older people. One in five retirees does not use the internet, and among the oldest, not even half have used various public e-services. At a time when digital tools and services have become the norm in almost all public institutions, those who do not use the internet end up being excluded.
But even among those who use the internet there is a large group who risk, what we call, extended exclusion. This includes those who lack the knowledge to use the various online functions - some do not even know that several essential public services exist online. Others are familiar with these services but cannot use them without assistance. Most of these users use the internet less often on average, but even among those who are online daily, there is a widespread need for assistance with various things. For example, many have problems installing Mobile Bank ID on their own, a necessary service for identifying themselves and paying for various things online. Many do not know how to change the cookie settings in their browsers or how to manage how mobile applications can use and share their location information.
In this year's report, we also established that many, especially the elderly – do not know of, or have even heard of, various digital concepts such as cloud services and 5G. There are also many among Sweden´s internet users who have heard of these and other digital concepts, but who do not understand them well enough to explain them to others. Not knowing expressions such as "casting" or “artificial intelligence” may not affect daily life very much, but not understanding the meaning of concepts such as cyber security and digital source criticism risks making life online unsafe.
Concerns, crime and integrity
The various risks included in internet usage is one aspect of the downside of digital transformation. The concern of being affected by online payment fraud is widespread, as is the worry of being subject to extortion attempts or being exposed to information that is incorrect. Some of these concerns seem to be justified, as 4 out of 10 state that they have been victims of attempted online fraud in the past year. Also, 5 percent have been subjected to extortion or threats.
Another source of concern is being exposed to cyber hate - something that more often affects young people in high school and secondary high school and people with special needs. Among these, approximately one in ten have been exposed to cyber hate and maltreated online in the past year. Young people’s greater vulnerability online is evident in that every tenth secondary high school student has received offensive images sent to them from strangers. It is also shown that young women are more targeted than young men. Around one in four high school and secondary high school students have also been exposed to unwanted contact attempts online.
The online collection of personal data is another concern. We are primarily concerned that authorities, both Swedish and foreign, as well as large companies such as Google and Facebook will collect information about us. Another concern that 4 out of 10 internet users share, is that someone can access our digital medical records and read them.
In fact, 1 in 5 internet users actively refrain from using public digital services because they do not feel they are secure. This is not due to lack of knowledge or know-how, but rather a conscious choice due to a lack of trust. One in ten users refrain from using e-services, due to concern that other public authorities will also have access to their personal data, and one in seven refrain from using these services due to concerns that hackers will gain access
Education is key to participation
Thus, in Sweden in 2021, digital platforms and services offer great opportunities, but there is a lack of knowledge of how the services work, and a widespread concern about what can happen online. Those who participated in this year's survey also had an opportunity to include written comments. It is evident from these comments that there is a frustration in complicated technology, difficult-to-understand computer system messages and also a fear of making mistakes. Several of the respondents think that manufacturers of devices and services have a responsibility to make the technology easier to use. Others believe that society must do more to educate and help those who cannot or do not want to adapt to digital life. Some want to accelerate the digital transformation even more – others want traditional alternatives to be guaranteed for those who do not want to be online.
As so many choose to abstain from using various public digital services, despite their availability, this clearly shows that many lack confidence in the digital transformation. Services must be built with a focus on security and integrity from the outset, and the concern that one's personal information is not handled responsibly must be addressed. This is a responsibility that lies with public authorities, companies and other service manufacturers.
Ultimately, education and knowledge of digital life is an important key to participation. Knowledge of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat makes it easier to decide how much time you want to spend there. Knowledge of the internet and its functions is necessary to be able to decide which of your pictures you want to share in the cloud, and how it works. Knowledge helps to protect against fake news, fake videos and email scams.
With increased knowledge, there is an opportunity for everyone to take advantage of the possibilities of the digital transformation, and for each to decide whether a digital service is secure or not. Through knowledge, you can make an informed decision whether you want to be a part of life online or not, and to what extent.
About the survey and The Swedish Internet Foundation
The Swedish Internet Foundation is an independent, business-driven and non-profit organization. We work for an internet that contributes positively to people and society. We are responsible for the Swedish top-level domain .se and handle the operation and administration of the top-level domain .nu. The revenues from the business operations finance a number of initiatives aimed at enabling people to make the best use of the internet and stimulate knowledge sharing and innovation with an internet focus.
With this survey, The Swedes and the internet, we want to contribute facts and insights on how the internet is being developed in Sweden. We want to ensure that the conditions for digitalization of Swedish society and the business community takes place with a well-informed foundation.
Read more about the survey at Om Svenskarna och internet 2021 - Metodbeskrivning (only in Swedish).