Is Asia sensitive to online privacy issues?

ZDNet Asia has more evidence, following my post at the weekend, that mobile internet usage is increasing across Asia, particularly in China and India. However, what really struck me was the conclusion that Asia is particularly sensitive to online privacy issues, as it is not something I agree with.

From ZDNet Asia:

The survey revealed that while mobile Internet is becoming more pervasive, privacy and security remain major concerns among users.

Despite such concerns, the number of survey respondents adopting mobile banking transactions worldwide more than doubled to 46 percent, compared to the previous study conducted 18 months ago in late-2008. Consumers who turned to the Internet to buy goods and services also surged from 10 to 28 percent.

Numbers from the world’s fastest-developing economies jumped the most, according to the survey. Some 77 percent of respondents in China, for instance, said they have used their mobile phones for banking and 44 percent have done likewise for retail transactions. In India, 38 percent have used their mobile phones to shop while 43 percent for financial services.

The KPMG survey polled 5,627 users, who owned either a mobile phone or PDA, from 22 countries worldwide including Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and United States.

More than 90 percent of respondents nine countries including South Korea, India and China indicated their concerns about online privacy and security, while those in Czech Republic and the Netherlands were the least disturbed about such issues where 70 percent in these two economies expressed similar concerns.

Doubts about inadequate privacy and poor security remain uppermost in the minds of consumers, Gary Matuszak, global chair of KPMG’s information, communications and entertainment division, noted in the report, adding that these concerns could hold back further development of the online platform as a commercial tool.

“Consumers around the world see solving these issues as a joint responsibility of the service providers, who should improve systems and be more transparent in their reporting on security matters, and regulators, who should introduce privacy and security policies that address new challenges arising from evolving mobile technology,” Matuszak said.

Leaving the privacy issues to one side first off… though statistics generated from survey are not guaranteed real-world numbers, this KPMG data is a further indicator that the mobile phone is fast developing into the primary internet access point for much of Asia.

As stated before, on a number of occasions, Asia’s growth – compared to other markets such as the west – is primarily motivated by inferior infrastructure, such as fixed line internet access, and the high cost of technology in relation to the average wage.

Mobile is allowing much of Asia, particularly India and China, to leapfrog the technology gap and increase its internet penetration rate despite a relative immaturity of technology and infrastructure compared to other more advanced markets.

Is Asia particularly sensitive to online privacy issues?

As stated, I disagree with the KPMG suggestion that Asia – China and India in particular – is more concerned with online privacy – though I do concede this may be true for South Korea where social networks have enjoyed a longer legacy.

From anecdotal experience, because there is little documented evidence on the issue in Asia, privacy is less of a concern in many regions across Asia where social networks are yet to hit anything like the point of saturation which they are reported to be at in markets like the UK. As such, social networks, and attitudes to them, are in early stage development in Asia, while internet access itself is still growing in a similarly early phase.

In this instance, which is the first time I’ve seen heightened concern for online privacy in Asia, I put the results down to the surveyed audience segment being among the more advanced in Asia. More advanced phone owners are likely to be more aware of online issues, as reported in western markets, while I still believe the issue is less of a concern for the market at large.

Further suggestion that those questioned are advanced comes from the finding that 77 percent of those surveyed in China had used mobile banking, given that recent Nielsen research (again, indicative and not guaranteed to be accurate) suggests 54 percent of Chinese phone owners use ‘advanced services’ while 38 percent are mobile internet subscribers.