Many people—even in China—see the Internet as a tool for free speech and as a place where you can expect a certain degree of privacy and anonymity.

There are now over half a billion Internet users in China, part of a shift in the centre of gravity of Internet use away from the US and Europe. Image of Pudong International Airport, Shanghai, by ToGa Wanderings.

Ed: You recently presented your results at the OII’s China and the New Internet World ICA preconference. What were people most interested in? Gillian: A lot of people were interested in our finding that China was such a big online shopping market compared to other countries, with 60% of our survey respondents reporting that they make an online purchase at least weekly. That’s twice the world’s average. A lot of people who study the Chinese Internet talk about governance issues rather than commerce, but the fact that there is this massive investment in ecommerce in China and a rapid transition to a middle class lifestyle for such a large number of Chinese means that Chinese consumer behaviours will have a significant impact on global issues such as resource scarcity, global warming, and the global economy. Others were interested in our findings concerning Internet use in ’emerging’ Internet countries like China. The Internet’s development in Western Europe and the US was driven by people who saw the technology as a platform for freedom of expression and peer-to-peer applications. In China, you see this optimism but you also see that a lot of people coming online move straight to smart phones and other locked-down technologies like the iPad, which you can only interact with in a certain way. Eighty-six percent of our Chinese respondents reported that they owned a smart phone, which was the highest percentage of all of the 24 countries we examined individually. A lot of these people are using those devices to play games and watch movies, which is a very different initial exposure to the Internet than we saw in early adopting Western countries. Ed: So, a lot of significant differences between usages in emerging versus established Internet nations. Any similarities? Gillian: In general, we find that uses are different but values are similar. People in emerging nations share the same values concerning free speech, privacy, and control…