The World Wide Web Foundation has released its 2014 Web Index report, examining global digital divides and ranking countries by access to the economic, social and political benefits of the web.
The report measures the web’s contribution to social, economic and political progress and examines key issues such as privacy, censorship gender-based violence, equality and, for the first time ever, net neutrality across 86 countries.
This year’s report is entitled The Web and Rising Global Inequality and explores the role the world wide web can play in tackling growing inequality.
Citing Oxfam research, the report reminds readers that 70pc of people live in countries where the gap between the rich and poor is greater than 30 years ago, and inequality was top of the World Economic Forum’s annual survey of global risks this year.
This has raised concerns among the World Wide Web Foundation that a crossroads has been reached between a web for everyone with equal opportunities for all, and a winner-takes-all web that further concentrates economic and political power in the hands of the few.
The digital divide
According to the 2014 Web Index, an estimated 4.4bn people – most of them poor, female, rural and living in developing countries – have no access to the internet at all.
Internet access still falls in favour of high-income countries, where internet use has increased from 45pc to 78pc since 2005, according to figures from the International Telecommunications Union.
In low-income countries, internet use remains below 10pc, while the cost of basic internet access is more than 80 times higher in the world’s poorest countries.
The Web Index ranks the economic, social and political benefit that countries gain from the web and the list shows that the higher a country’s per capita income, the higher its position. Rich Scandinavian countries dominate for the third year running, while poorer countries remain on the bottom rungs.
The comprehensive data visualisation below illustrates how rankings can vary across regional divides but economic divides are more clear cut, with those on the same economic level occupying similar positions across the board.
Denmark tops the rankings with a perfect score of 100, followed by Finland, Norway, the UK and Sweden.
The US lies just outside of the top 5 at No 6, followed by Iceland, South Korea, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Ireland’s score of 78.28 was enough to get it to 20th position, beaten by Japan, Switzerland, Estonia, Canada, Austria, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and France.
Russia is one of the lowest-ranked European countries with a score of 35 and, out of a total of 86, four countries – Cameroon, Yemen, Myanmar and Ethiopia – scored less than 10 points, but it was Ethiopia in last position with an absolute zero.
Privacy and surveillance
The Web Index report also relayed the World Wide Web Foundation’s concerns over increased restrictions of internet freedom.
In 84pc of the countries, laws to protect citizens from indiscriminate mass surveillance were determined to be either weak or non-existent, up from 63pc in 2014. The report also noted an increase in countries blocking politically or socially sensitive web content to a moderate or extreme degree, which rose from 32pc in 2013 to 40pc in 2014.
By the estimation of the World Wide Web Foundation, the means and freedoms to fully utilise the web are within reach of only 1 in 7 people on the planet. More than 4bn have no rights to the internet at all, while a further 2bn are severely restricted by pervasive surveillance or censorship.
The internet as a human right
The Web Index is published by the World Wide Web Foundation, which was established by the man who invented the web, Tim Berners-Lee. It is a non-profit organisation that has dedicated itself to achieving global access to the web for all.
Launching the report, Berners-Lee once again took the opportunity to call for the internet to be recognised as a basic human right.
The report makes a number of recommendations to policy-makers, which include the prevention of price discrimination in internet traffic, balancing the rights of copyright-holders with those of web users, investing in high-quality public education and treating the internet as a public utility.
Main internet browsing image by atm2003 via Shutterstock