Putting People First: Digital Society Index Highlights Risk to Sustainable Growth as Digital Needs Are Overlooked

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In Asia Pacific, report highlights concerns about the pace of technological change and impact on well-being

  • Singapore, a newcomer to the index, tops this year’s Index across the indicators of dynamism, trust and inclusion in the digital economy, yet in stark contrast to this, has the lowest psychological need score (25%) of all markets surveyed
  • 56% of people in APAC are optimistic that digital technology will have a positive impact on society and help solve the world’s most pressing challenges (e.g. poverty, environmental degradation).
  • 71% of people in APAC think the pace of technological change is too fast today, well above the global average of 57%. 
  • 67% of people in APAC believe that not enough is being done to ensure digital technology benefits everyone in society rather than a select few, versus 58% globally.
  • APAC lags significantly behind global psychological need scores (28% versus 38% globally), which measures the impact of digital on health & well-being as well as quality of life. 

April 2019. The Digital Society Index 2019: Human Needs in a Digital World, released today by Dentsu Aegis Network, reveals a crisis of confidence in the digital economy. Despite widespread recognition of the utility of digital services, a range of basic, self-fulfilment, psychological and societal needs are failing to be met. Alongside a growing distrust of digital technology, this is prompting consumers to take back control of their digital experience, with significant implications for business.

The research, conducted in partnership with Oxford Economics and surveying over 43,000 people, measures performance in 24 countries across the dimensions of dynamism, inclusion and trust.

Across Asia Pacific, there is a gap between the promise of digital technologies and its human impact. 56% of people in APAC countries are optimistic that digital technologies will have a positive impact on society and help solve the world’s most pressing challenges (e.g. poverty, environmental degradation), versus 45% of people globally.

But they are concerned about the pace of change. 71% of people in APAC think the pace of technological change is too fast today, well above the global average of 57%. APAC also has a higher percentage of people (67% in APAC versus 58% globally) who believe that not enough is being done to ensure digital technology benefits everyone in society rather than a select few, pointing to the persistence of a digital divide.

People are also worried about technology’s impact on their well-being. APAC reflects very low psychological need scores (28% versus 38% globally) which measures the impact of digital on health and well-being as well as quality of life. Interestingly, Singapore, which tops this year’s Index in overall digital readiness, has the lowest score of all markets surveyed. The next bottom five scores are all from Asian economies. Globally, 33% of people agree that their personal use of technology has had a negative impact on their health and well-being – in India and China 58% and 55% of people agree respectively. 

Nevertheless, people in APAC continue to embrace digital products and services. People in APAC are continuing to increase their use of digital products and services, sometimes faster than their non-APAC counterparts. 55% were more likely to use an app to take a taxi versus last year, compared to just 44% globally. 81% of people in APAC were more likely to shop online than last year, compared to 76% of people globally.

Digital consumers taking back control
Alongside broader societal concerns, the report flags a fast-approaching tipping point, as people become increasingly mindful and critical of data management by public institutions and private companies. While digital technologies are transforming how brands serve their customers, a lack of trust and concerns about personal well-being are prompting people to seek a healthier balance of digital media consumption. 

According to the study, 44% of people in APAC and also globally said they have taken steps last year to reduce the amount of data they share online. 27% of people globally – and 25% of people in APAC – said they installed adblocking software last year. 78% of people globally would stop doing business with an organization that misused their data – and in APAC, 77% would do the same. In China, this rises to 86%.

Only 45% of people globally trust that organisations holding their personal data will protect their privacy. Eight out of ten now say they would stop doing business with an organisation that misused their data, representing the most prominent driver of distrust. These concerns go beyond the tech industry: all businesses deploying digital products and services find themselves under a similar level of scrutiny.

Critically for businesses, those consumers most active in taking back control of their online data and time, in ways that will make it harder for brands to engage them, are also those with the highest propensity to use digital products and services (e.g. shop online, use an app to take a taxi or stream music). This is creating a digital paradox for brands - as those most ready to embrace digital marketing and services are also the most likely to push away from them.

Takaki Hibino, Executive Chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network Asia Pacific, commented:
“For Asia, this year’s Digital Society Index presents a tale of two halves. There is great optimism about the future of technology and its ability to solve the world’s most pressing challenges. At the same time people’s trust in technology is waning and concerns about the pace of technological change are mounting. 

Looking to the workplace in Asia, as compared to the rest of the world, there is greater optimism that digital technologies will create career opportunities in the future. As digital technologies continue to reshape the skills and jobs of tomorrow, businesses need to build confidence in and help people develop their digital skills, as well as re-evaluate business processes against these changing dynamics. 

It is no longer a question that people need to be at the heart of the digital economy. However, there is still a long way to go in meeting the digital needs of many. If this aspect is not fulfilled, innovation will always fail. The Digital Society Index calls for a more balanced approach to engage people through digital products and services – to truly grasp the opportunities presented by technology.”

Implications for brands and businesses

While the global findings suggest significant progress is required to better meet people’s digital needs, there are significant variations across countries. Emerging markets tend to feel their basic needs (digital access and trust in data use) are well addressed, but not their psychological needs (health and well-being). However, people in developed markets are generally positive about their basic and psychological needs, but much less so in respect of self-fulfilment (skills, education and jobs) and societal needs (belief in digital as a force for good).

These trends carry significant implications for brands and businesses in terms of how they engage through digital channels and the report includes a series of recommendations: 

  • With misuse of personal data, the number one driver of distrust, businesses need to compete on openness and transparency around data usage a positive source of differentiation. By focusing on engagement, not reach, brands can also maximise the value of interactions, as consumers increasingly initiate those moments themselves.
  • Amid a growing debate around the negative impact of social media and digital technology on health, brands need to work out how they can be part of helping people undertake their own digital detox and create a loyalty premium by helping them interact on their own terms.
  • Harness technology to enable more effective learning. The more positive people are about digital technology in terms of their own skills, the more likely they are to engage with digital products and services.

Digital Society Index: Methodology and country rankings

Drawing on a survey of over 43,000 people, the Index assesses countries’ performance across dynamism, inclusion, and trust, to measure how well they are building a digital economy that works for all in society. 

This year Singapore, the US and China rank as the top digital economies in the world. The US continues to perform strongly on dynamism, but less so on trust, reflecting a wider trend across Western markets such as Australia, France and Germany. 

The United Kingdom falls to 5th after ranking first in 2018, driven by declining consumer sentiment around the future impact of technology, while Nordic markets dominate the top ten.


For further information contact:
Laura Cooke
Communications & Marketing Director, APAC
T: +65 6911 9319
E: Laura.Cooke@dentsuaegis.com 

About Dentsu Aegis Network
Part of Dentsu Inc., Dentsu Aegis Network is made up of ten global network brands - Carat, Dentsu, dentsu X, iProspect, Isobar, mcgarrybowen, Merkle, MKTG, Posterscope and Vizeum and supported by its specialist/multi-market brands. Dentsu Aegis Network is Innovating the Way Brands Are Built for its clients through its best-in-class expertise and capabilities in media, digital and creative communications services. Offering a distinctive and innovative range of products and services, Dentsu Aegis Network is headquartered in London and operates in 145 countries worldwide with more than 47,000 dedicated specialists. www.dentsuaegisnetwork.com