AUSTIN, Texas — Computer and Internet use in Texas have reached surprisingly high levels, according to a new study released today (July 3) by The University of Texas at Austin. However, as people become more familiar with the Internet and use it for different tasks, their concerns about privacy and security issues are growing.
The Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute (TIPI) at UT Austin released the new report titled “E-Government Services and Computer and Internet Use in Texas.” The study is based on a statewide telephone survey of Texas households conducted in March-April, 2000.
Led by TIPI director Dr. Sharon Strover, the research effort looked at the factors that might influence some of the state’s plans to use the Internet more extensively to provide government services.
One of the main initial concerns of government is that some people may not be comfortable using computers or the Internet. This study found, however, that 67 percent of the random sample uses computers, and that most regular computer users also are regular Internet users: fully 60 percent of the sample, or most computer users, also use the Internet.
“We were surprised at the high level of reported computer and Internet use around the state,” said Strover, “although we still found what other studies have predicted — that people who do not use the Internet tend to be older, less wealthy and less well educated and, often, members of minority groups.” A “digital divide” seems to exist at lower income levels, although it disappears for households earning more than about $30,000 per year.
Among the reasons for not using the Internet, not using computers ranked first (48 percent), but it was followed by concerns about childrens’ access (45 percent), lack of interest or time and concerns about the costs. Rural residents were particularly concerned about costs.
Even people who don’t use the Internet, however, still believe it could be useful. In fact, the great majority of the sample, 81 percent, believes the Internet can make government more available. But this response also was countered by peoples’ overwhelming recognition that the Internet is not sufficiently available to everyone to use it as the primary method for providing government information and services.
Some of the study’s findings mean that new government services will have to pay attention to privacy concerns. People who use the Internet less frequently are more apprehensive about privacy, although 70 percent of the sample reported being worried about privacy on the Internet. “As Texas joins other states in figuring out how to handle privacy and security issues for its services, it will be hard to ignore the fact that most people really want to be actively involved in telling the state what information they feel comfortable sharing,” said Strover.
About 72 percent of the sample preferred a privacy strategy that would give them control over what data the state made available about them as a result of Internet transactions. The full report can be found at the Telecommunications and Information Policy Web site: http://www.utexas.edu/research/tipi.
TIPI was established in May 1996 by UT Austin in response to the unprecedented opportunities in Texas associated with telecommunications. Originally established as a statewide resource, TIPI has grown to play a key role in advising both the public and private sectors in setting priorities and allocating resources at the state, national and international levels.
For more information, contact Dr. Sharon Strover at (512) 471-6667, or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.