Internet use in Britain has risen to record levels but there is a worrying lack of awareness around security, figures show.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found 89 per cent of adults used the internet at least weekly this year, a rise of one percentage point on last year and up from 51 per cent in 2006.
The proportion of adults who bought goods or services online also rose slightly to 78 per cent — and is 25 percentage points higher than in 2008.
There has been an even sharper jump in the number of “silver surfers” shopping online, with almost half of those aged 65 and over making purchases online, up from 16 per cent a decade ago.
Clothes or sports goods were the most popular online purchase in the UK, bought by 55 per cent of adults, according to the ONS. Household goods such as furniture and toys were the next most popular items, followed by holiday accommodation. All age groups were most likely to spend between £100 (Dh474) and £499 (Dh2,363), while the UK’s most frequent online shoppers are aged between 35 and 44.
Web spending accounted for about 18 per cent of all UK retail sales last month, about double the level of e-commerce recorded in the US.
Despite the ever-increasing reach of the internet — 90 per cent of households had online access this year — the ONS found significant gaps in security awareness.
While smartphones are the most popular devices used to access the internet, with 78 per cent of respondents doing so, just over a quarter (26 per cent) of smartphone users said they did not have security installed and a further 24 per cent did not know whether they did or not.
The ONS said: “This could potentially become a concern in the future due to lack of awareness surrounding the importance of security installation.”
Your life is online
Despite concerns about privacy online, particularly in the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, the ONS also found that of adults who used a smartphone, only 31 per cent of those aged 65 and over had refused access to personal data when using phone apps in the last 12 months. The figure was 65 per cent among 16- to 24-year-olds.
Bill Buchanan, a professor of computing at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “The mobile phone is the danger for us. When you’re at home, you’re behind a firewall, you’re fairly well protected. There’s a much greater risk with a phone.
“With a mobile phone, someone can be tracking your location and they can even be turning on your camera or location tracker.
“You can track someone from birth to death these days and have a record of every minute of their life through Google searches. That’s pretty sensitive information and we have to understand that Google has that information.”
He said phone users were trusting Apple and Google not to provide their information to others.
While the proportion both of people using the internet regularly and those shopping online show signs of plateauing, the viewing of videos online has increased significantly since 2016. It rose from 29 per cent to 46 per cent on commercial services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and from 47 per cent to 62 per cent on YouTube or similar platforms.
Email was the most popular internet activity this year, carried out by 84 per cent of adults. Finding information about goods or services was the second most popular activity, at 77 per cent up from 71 per cent last year.
Online banking was the activity that has shown the biggest percentage point increase over the past decade, from 35 per cent in 2008 to 69 per cent in 2018. “If you think about the risk there, you can lose a lot of money,” said Buchanan.
He warned that people were much more likely to fall for phishing emails and fake websites on a phone, where checking authenticity was not as easy. “It’s difficult to create the security you would get on a desktop because you’re not in a constrained space,” he said. “What you really need is something that learns about you, what you like and don’t like, and what looks suspicious.”