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Big Tech firms dominating internet choices


Nearly all consumers in the Asia Pacific region depend on Big Tech companies for their products and services, yet remain uneasy with this dependence, according new research from the Internet Society. 

This year's Asia Pacific Internet Policy Insights surveyed more than 1,300 people from across 39 economies in the region. The study focused on consolidation in the internet economy with the goal of understanding the growing influence of a handful of dominant players in the online world. 

The survey showed 96% of respondents highlighted their dependence on large platforms, indicating the largest players are dominating vast swathes of the internet. This includes Facebook and Tencent in social networks, Google and Baidu in search, and Amazon and Alibaba in online shopping.
 
Close to half of the respondents, 47%, felt that these large players fully influenced how they accessed and used the internet. This number rose to 95% when respondents were asked if these companies had at least had partial influence.

The study notes that the success of these online platforms is linked to convenience and the ease of access to products and services.

Consumers are also keenly aware that they will have a tough time finding alternatives for the services provided by these companies. Just five out of every 100 respondents believe it would be very easy to find a suitable replacement. And only a third of those surveyed (34%) felt that they had more choices today than they did five years ago.
 
APAC Consumers Want More Choice, But Fear the Unknown 
Despite the current dependence on Big Tech, the majority of consumers in the region would like to see more choice in the market, with 60% of those surveyed highlighting that they would like to have the ability to choose products and services from more than just five companies. This translates to wanting more choice from both big and small companies, the survey says.
 
The top five categories that consumers would like to see more choices in are:

1.      E-commerce websites
2.      Search Engines
3.      Social Media Platforms
4.      Email Providers
5.      Messaging Apps

However, whilst they may wish to see increasing choices, consumers in the region remain unconvinced that smaller alternatives are safe. Only 16% of those surveyed indicated having high or very high levels of trust for small companies on the Internet. This is versus 53% who felt the same about big companies on the internet.
 
The Asia Pacific Policy Survey found that security has come out tops once again with security and trust the main concerns for the region's Internet users for the third year in a row. However, in addition to the issue of security, consumers are also beginning to pay more attention to the need for consumer protection.
 
For the first time since the survey started in 2014, internet users have cited consumer protection as a top-five concern, in terms of public policy. The new focus could signify rising awareness of the need for consumer rights to be addressed.
 
The top five internet-related policy issues, as cited by respondents, this year are:

    •    Cybersecurity -- 79%
    •    Access -- 75%
    •    Data Protection --73%
    •    Privacy -- 70%
    •    Consumer Protection -- 64% 

"This year's report will help policymakers and other decision-makers in the region understand that digital consolidation involves a complex set of issues. While people benefit from big tech's products and services, they are clearly concerned about associated security and privacy threats, and they also want more choice," explains Rajnesh Singh, APAC regional director at the Internet Society.
 
"The desire of internet users in the region to have a variety of service providers to choose from suggests that policymakers need to make sure that policies targeted at developing the digital economy do not favour only the large players, but nurture and cultivate small-and-medium-sized firms," he says.
 
Earlier this year, the Internet Society published the 2019 Global Internet Report on this issue as a starting point for exploring whether the internet economy is consolidating and, if it is, what the implications might be for the future of digital communications, connectivity, and commerce.