APAC Consumers' Reluctant Love Affair with Big Tech

Love ‘em or hate ‘em? When it comes to big tech, APAC consumers do both.

A recent survey from the Internet Society revealed that 96% of consumers in APAC depend in some way on "Big Tech" companies for their products and services for their online activities. It also highlighted a rise in uneasiness over this dependence.

The Asia Pacific Internet Policy Insights, which surveyed more than 1,300 people from across 39 economies in the region, clearly showed that the most significant players are dominating vast swathes of the Internet. This includes Facebook and Tencent in social networks, Google and Baidu in search, and Amazon and Alibaba in online shopping.

Close to half of the respondents, 47%, felt that these large players entirely influenced how they accessed and used the Internet. Add those who felt they at least had partial influence, and this figure goes up to 95%.

The main reasons for the success of these online platforms are convenience and the ease of access to products and services. But in the same vein, consumers understand that finding alternatives will become tougher.

Just 5 out of every 100 respondents believe it would be very easy to find a suitable replacement. And only a third of those surveyed (34%) felt that they had more choices today than they did 5 years ago.

Yet, APAC consumers are not turning against big tech. Most would like to see more choices in the market, with 60% of those surveyed highlighting that they want the freedom to choose products and services from more than just five companies.

The top five categories that consumers would like to see more choices are:

  1. E-commerce websites
  2. Search Engines
  3. Social Media Platforms
  4. Email Providers
  5. Messaging Apps

However, APAC consumers find safety in big tech. So, while they may wish to see increasing choices, only 16% of those surveyed indicated having high or very high levels of trust for small companies on the Internet. This is versus 53% who felt the same about big companies on the Internet.

The Asia-Pacific Policy Survey found that security has come out tops once again with security and trust the main concerns for the region's Internet users for the third year in a row. Besides the issue of security, consumers are also beginning to pay more attention to consumer protection.

For the first time since the survey started in 2014, Internet users have cited consumer protection as a top-five concern, in terms of public policy. The new focus could signify rising awareness of the need for consumer rights to be addressed.

The top five Internet-related policy issues, as cited by respondents, this year are:

  • Cybersecurity: 79%
  • Access: 75%
  • Data Protection: 73%
  • Privacy: 70%
  • Consumer Protection: 64%

"This year's report will help policymakers, and other decision-makers in the region understand that digital consolidation involves a complex set of issues. While people benefit from big tech's products and services, they are clearly concerned about associated security and privacy threats, and they also want more choice," said Rajnesh Singh, APAC regional director of the Internet Society.

"The desire of Internet users in the region to have a variety of service providers to choose from suggests that policymakers need to make sure that policies targeted at developing the digital economy do not favor only the large players, but nurture and cultivate small-and-medium-sized firms," he added.