Digital Doubters in Different Political and Cultural Contexts: Comparing Citizen Attitudes Across Three Major Digital Technologies
Genia Kostka – 2023
Governments all over the world are rapidly embracing digital technologies for information collection, governance, and social control. Recent studies suggest citizens may accept or even support digital surveillance. By using an online survey dataset on public opinion about facial recognition technology, contact tracing apps, and the social credit system in China, Germany, the US, and the UK, this article shows that these studies have overlooked a small yet significant group of digital technology doubters. Our results show that while up to 10% of Chinese citizens belong to the group of “digital doubters,” this group is the largest in Germany with 30% of citizens. The US and the UK are in the middle with approximately 20%. While citizens who belong to this group of digital doubters worry about privacy and surveillance issues, their attitudes can also be explained by them not being convinced of the benefits of digital technologies, including improved efficiency, security, or convenience. We find that the more citizens lack trust in their government, the more likely they are to belong to the group of digital doubters. Our findings demonstrate that in both democratic and authoritarian states, there are citizens opposing the adoption of certain digital technologies. This underscores the importance of initiating societal debate to determine the appropriate regulations that align with these societal preferences.