DSGVO, Advertising, AI and Smartphone: How the Germans Use the Internet

2018 was an exciting year for the digital industry: the DSGVO was introduced, while Facebook and Google were struggling with data scandals. New technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain will soon revolutionize our society – and an ever more comprehensive automation is already changing many job profiles.

But how is the broad mass of Germans with all the developments? How has their use and attitude to the Internet, online advertising and new technologies with all its concomitants changed? The study carried out by Kantar TNS “D21 Digital Index 2018/2019” provides answers every year – with a picture of the situation of the digital society.


Here is a brief overview of the results of the study:

Device usage: The smartphone continues to spread unchecked

Meanwhile, three out of four Germans own a smartphone. By contrast, the distribution of the simple mobile phone is decreasing to the same extent, with only a quarter of the population using it. Only for people over 70 years is the simple mobile even more common than the smartphone.

Laptops are the second most used, but their share increases over time significantly slower than the smartphone. The use of tablets continues to decline and drops to 34 percent.

On the other hand, the number of smart TVs, ie TVs connected to the Internet, is increasing. The trend towards the desired program “on demand”, at least as a supplement to traditional television, is continuing, with smart TV now finding its way into almost a quarter of Germans.

Newer devices such as wearables (fitness bracelets and smartwatches) and language assistants (such as Amazon Echo Alexa or Google Home) are currently niche products, their use is at a similar low level as in 2017. These products mainly appeal to the middle generation, for example, from the 30- to 39-year-olds 17 percent wearables. In addition, language assistants rarely use people outside of work life.

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Graphic: D21 Digital Index 2018/2019, a study by Initiative D21, Kantar TNS

Internet usage: Digital Routine

And what are the Germans doing on the internet? Above all, they regularly use search engines like Google for research. The applications rank by a large margin in first place.

  • Other digital services are only for
    a minority for everyday life: 44 percent use once
    or several times a week office applications, at the
    However, 78 percent of employees with office jobs are significantly more.
  • Quite also are still common
    Instant messaging services, two out of five Germans
    regularly use WhatsApp or other applications.
  • A quarter to a third uses the Internet
    Shopping regularly to pay online, networked
    to play or to order services.
  • streaming services
    and fitness applications only reach
    a minority of about 20 or ten percent.

Chart 21 1
Graphic: D21 Digital Index 2018/2019, a study by Initiative D21, Kantar TNS

Differences in user behavior are particularly evident on the basis of different sociodemographic or social characteristics. Streaming services like Netflix are mainly used by the younger generation: almost 40 percent of the under-30s, but less than 10 percent of the over-50s. Education also has a significant impact on user behavior, with only six percent of the lower educated class streaming films or series on a regular basis, but 30 percent of the more educated.

This pattern basically applies to all digital services, but is more pronounced in newer applications (on-demand services, WhatsApp, fitness applications) than in the more established ones (internet research). In addition, a city-rural divide can be observed: people in big cities use many digital applications more than residents of rural areas, in particular they order more services on the Internet or stream.

In addition to low availability (delivery services), technical barriers in the form of insufficient transmission rates for streaming more intensive use are probably in the way.

Use of social media: WhatsApp in first place

Two thirds of Germans are active in social media. By far the most widespread is WhatsApp, which is increasingly being discovered by older generations. Even the over 65s use 20 percent.

Facebook is used by 41 percent of Germans, YouTube uses every third. The professional networks Xing and LinkedIn reach only a fraction of the population and are – if at all – distributed only to people with office jobs.

The decisive factor for the use of social media is the age: Almost all under-30s are active, on average in more than three different services. This age group is also the strongest user group for most social media.

On the other hand, they often pass the seniors, where only one in four uses social media. Occupational activity as well as the level of education also play an important role, whether and in which social media or networks one moves. The occupancy rate for the more educated, at 78 percent, is significantly higher than for the less educated, at just 42 percent.

Graphic D21 2
Graphic: D21 Digital Index 2018/2019, a study by Initiative D21, Kantar TNS

Competencies in digital applications

People in Germany are safer in dealing with computer applications compared to the previous years. For example, a good two thirds can transfer data from one device to another, almost ten percentage points more than two years ago. More than half are in control of the common office programs.

Competencies in dealing with Internet applications are also increasing significantly in society. At the moment, this is especially true for information processing skills as well as for security and security – in other words, competences that lead to secure and confident use of the Internet. For example, Germans are increasingly aware that many Internet applications are not “free”.

Three-quarters know that the consideration for free apps is information from the data collected – in 2016 it was five percentage points less. However, from the age of 65, this awareness is only about half that present, as are people with lower education. According to the company, half of the respondents are already confidently handling hostility in social networks, an increase of 13 percentage points compared to 2017.

Graphic D21 4
Graphic: D21 Digital Index 2018/2019, a study by Initiative D21, Kantar TNS

When recognizing fake news and the use of multiple sources in the Internet research, the Germans are also more competent. By contrast, only a quarter of Germans can pay via the smartphone. This method of payment dominates above all the middle age group (20 to 39 years).

For all Internet and computer literacy skills, men are generally more savvy than women, for example when setting up home networks. Other important influencing factors are education and especially employment. Persons with an office job generally dare to have above-average skills.

Expertise in dealing with usage-based online advertising

Graphic D21 3
Graphic: D21 Digital Index 2018/2019, a study by Initiative D21, Kantar TNS

Almost every second German states that they have received targeted advertising on the Internet due to their personal usage or whereabouts. A large part of those affected are aware of which behavior or service this advertisement has triggered – this is especially true for under-30s.

Basically, however, only a small proportion of Germans see a need for action: just one in ten has changed their digital behavior by adjusting their personal attitudes or refraining from using individual applications. Especially in the younger generation, the mechanisms that lead to a targeted advertising, well known – but consequences are drawn least.

Knowledge and understanding of terms

The majority of Germans still do not know most of the technical terms from the digital world. Here, the skills even decrease. Many people can only follow the public discourse about technology-driven current and future developments to a limited extent – for example, in the world of work, in medicine or in domestic applications.

Currently only just over half of the population dares to explain common terms of the technology industry such as cloud or artificial intelligence or indicates their importance. In addition, the more specific the terms, the less the knowledge. According to their own statement, only two out of five respondents can classify the term algorithm, and only three out of every three women among them.

Big Data, Industry 4.0 or Bots are only familiar to one in five. Blockchain, e-government or the Internet of Things are even less known.

According to his own statement, men are generally more confident with all the terms used than women, and the gap between artificial intelligence, bots and virtual reality is particularly great. In addition, city dwellers are sometimes much more experienced than the inhabitants of rural regions – with smart meters and the Internet of Things, their knowledge is even twice as high.

Graphic D21 5
Graphic: D21 Digital Index 2018/2019, a study by Initiative D21, Kantar TNS

Openness: Fundamental interest in digital topics

However, most Germans are well aware of how important it is to deal with digitization: from the point of view of respondents, the foundations for the secure use of digital media should already be laid at school. Two thirds of Germans think that this should be a fundamental part of all school subjects. All age groups see this to a similar extent, including the students themselves, but especially those working with office jobs.

These also benefit most from the possibility of flexible working, 71 percent of them can better reconcile through the Internet private and professional life. In the total population, this is only a good third of the respondents.

In addition, there is a fundamental interest in digital topics in Germany: Almost half of Germans are interested in developing their knowledge. Even among the 50 to 69-year-olds still say 40 percent, only from 70 years, the interest drops significantly.

A medical remote diagnosis by videoconference can imagine one in four. The readiness for this e-health application increases with education and is greatest in the middle generations between 30 and 49 years.

Also interesting: Smart Home and E-Health: Much skepticism among the Germans

Graphic: D21 Digital Index 2018/2019, a study by Initiative D21, Kantar TNS

Despite the intention to expand knowledge and the general openness to digital media and applications is often overstrained: So every third onliner intentionally want to be offline more often in the future, and the trend is rising. Especially the younger generation as well as people with office work increasingly desire more time off from the medium of the internet.

Graphic: D21 Digital Index 2018/2019, a study by Initiative D21, Kantar TNS

Metropolitans, on the other hand, want the least to do without the internet, where the timing and the extent of the need for digital information may be greatest, and therefore being online is a little less annoying. Overall, 38 percent of respondents often reach their limits with digital devices or applications, three percentage points more than in 2017.

And a life without digitization? Meanwhile, 41 percent believe that it would have a negative impact on their daily lives, when suddenly there would be no Internet and no digital devices – in 2013 there were still 29 percent. This is an astonishingly low number considering how widespread digital services are and how often they are used.

More security through the DSGVO?

The Basic Data Protection Ordinance (DSGVO) only scores points with a proportion of Germans: 37 percent are convinced that the data protection regulation will ensure that their data are handled with greater care. This confidence tends to increase with education and income, and is particularly high among those working in the desk.

Really informed about what happens to their own data, feels by the DSGVO, however, only one in five.

A slight increase can be seen in the willingness to grant the provider of a service access to their own data in exchange for a service. Especially in men and under-50s shows here a certain openness.

Graphic: D21 Digital Index 2018/2019, a study by Initiative D21, Kantar TNS

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