Biggest Differences in How We Use the Internet: US vs. UK

Apart from the inevitable cultural differences, humans are a mostly homogenous species. Our days are spent doing the same things as people far across the globe – working, playing sports, sleeping, or spending leisure time in front of the TV.

Unfortunately, there’s still one divide that breaks us apart.

Only around 60% of the world has access to the internet, and those who do may find it filtered by ISPs, governments, and watchdogs. The Office of Communications (Ofcom) serves this role in the UK, while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) holds the digital reins in the United States.

Net Neutrality

It’s easy to see web monitoring as a negative thing but ExpressVPN for the UK notes that Ofcom also governs things like fairness, impartiality, and privacy. Conversely, US readers will likely remember the FCC’s very public battle to change net neutrality rules, potentially placing internet control in the collective hands of ISPs.

It’s a dichotomy of good versus evil.

Mac

From a design perspective, these bodies direct the creative process from the first brief. Plenty of news sites in the US no longer serve European visitors because of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), for example, while rules on cookies are universal.

GDPR governs user consent, data collection policies, and people’s right to read and delete whatever information is held about them. It also insists that consumers are notified within 72 hours of any breach that affects their information.

Whether regulators are taking all the joy out of the internet (and TV, radio, etc.) or simply trying to stop us from oversharing our data is still debatable. However, the degree of control ultimately decides how the internet is used.

It’s not just regulators that have a role in this business, either. The long-serving UK brand the BT Group bundles safety tools with its broadband packages, while private solutions such as Bitwarden give people a more direct hand in securing their devices.

World Population Review seems to indicate that a truly “free” internet is a rarity in the world, enjoyed by countries in the traditional West, like Europe, Australia, and Japan – but how, exactly, do their people use the internet?

Generative AI

Ofcom produces a document called Online Nation each year. In the 2023 edition, the regulator revealed that 98% of UK adults use social media. Pew Research offers quite a different picture for online Americans. Just 68% of US adults log in to Facebook (etc.) regularly.

In both cases, YouTube is the most popular site, with 91% of Brits visiting the video site to 87% of Americans.

Let’s look at something more modern. Generative AI like ChatGPT and Midjourney is simultaneously a sophisticated tool and a public plaything. Compared to Americans, Brits haven’t taken much interest in Gen AI just yet. “Almost all” US householders are aware of artificial intelligence, according to Photoshop creator Adobe, with 53% claiming to have used it. That latter figure is 31% in the UK (Ofcom figures).

The reasons for the gulf in both sets of figures are multiple, ranging from access to tech, level of curiosity, business needs, and simple awareness.

The one area where the two countries come together is coverage. Comparison site Uswitch indicates that the majority of the UK (99.7%) has “decent” internet. Similarly, 98% of Americans have a fixed broadband connection to siphon YouTube videos.

Demographics

Finally, here’s something unexpected.

Use of X, the site formerly known as Twitter, scales with income in the United States. Pew Research says that approximately 20% of people earning between $30,000 and $99,999 annually use the social media site. This figure increases to 29% with household incomes above that threshold.

Another quirk in website usage involves the gender demographics of Pinterest – only 19% of men use the platform compared to 50% of women.

When designing a website, it’s important to consider how audiences change predictably with advancing age, level of freedom, disposable income, and other socio-economic factors. This sometimes means that once-popular websites become irrelevant in front of a new generation.

Maybe we’re not so homogenous after all.

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