European Tech Insights

Technology is transforming the world around us and this brings a combination of excitement and opportunity, but also challenges to our way of life, labor markets and societies. To tackle the great technological transformation of our time, public and private actors need to understand what is legitimate in the eyes of the citizens and what sort of technological future they may be ready to embrace. Our annual survey, European Tech Insights, explores attitudes towards technological change with the aim of understanding how technology is transforming our lives and how it should be governed.

European Tech Insights 2021 is composed of two studies: Part I focuses on how the pandemic has altered our habits and perceptions with regards to healthcare, work, social networks and the urban space. Part II reveals how Europeans are embracing technologies (from AI to automation) and what are the implications for our democracies and societies.

One year on from the outbreak of Covid-19, the findings of European Tech Insights 2021 reveal that the pandemic has accelerated the acceptance of technologies among Europeans but also increased awareness of the downsides of technological development.

Democracy in the Digital Age

Not only are citizens changing their attitudes and becoming more willing to use new technologies; they are also supportive of democracy going digital.

– A vast majority of Europeans (72%) would like to be able to vote in elections through their smartphone, while only 17% would oppose it. Strongest support is found in Poland (80%), Estonia (79%), Italy (78%) and Spain (73%).

– 51% of Europeans support reducing the number of national parliamentarians and giving those seats to an algorithm. Over 60% of Europeans aged 25-34 and 56% of those aged 34-44 are excited about this idea.

 

Embracing Technology

The research found growing support towards increased adoption of AI and new uses of technology:

– One third of Europeans would prefer that AI algorithms decide their social welfare payments or approve their visa for working in a foreign country, rather than a human civil servant

– A majority of Europeans support the use of facial technology for verifying the identity of citizens if that makes their lives more convenient. Increased support is seen in Italy (56%), Sweden (47%) or The Netherlands (45%).

– More than a third of Europeans would prefer to have a package delivered to them by a robot rather than a human.

More than a year after the outbreak of Covid-19, Europeans are still struggling to return to any form of pre-pandemic normality. While the long-lasting effects of the pandemic in our lives are yet to determined, our report unveils public opinion shifts that reveal the profound impact of this crisis.

Privacy and the Youth

The research also found that young Europeans are more willing to make concessions in terms of privacy:

– Most young Europeans under the age of 25 (46%) show less privacy concerns and are more willing to share personal data, like their health data, while most over 35s (53%) would prefer not to. Strongest support is seen in Italy (52%), Spain (41%) the Netherlands and Poland (38%).

– Similarly, young Europeans are willing to let their governments share their health records with companies like Google, with 55% of under 25-year olds in favour.

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Regulation of Big Tech

European Tech Insights 2021 also identified a trend towards scepticism of Big Tech, with individuals supporting stronger regulation around it.

– Europeans massively support the adoption of a tech tax (65% vs. 15%), with close to 70% of Germans, Italians, Spaniards and Dutch in favor of such measure.

– Compared to last year, more Europeans (42%) think that governments should limit the size of the GAFA companies, or even de-escalate them

– Citizens are overwhelmingly against Facebook becoming a private messaging behemoth. 57% of respondents want governments to prevent Facebook’s merge of WhatsApp, and only 17% support the idea.

The results also suggest a sense of growing public responsibility to address the big societal issues which have been exposed or exacerbated by the pandemic – such as improving healthcare systems and protecting jobs.

The Changing Nature of Work

The survey revealed concerns regarding automation and labor markets, but also a trend towards cooperation and the support of essential workers:

– A majority of citizens (61%) are willing to pay more taxes to raise the salaries of essential workers from nurses to shop-workers. Highest support is found in Sweden (70%), UK (70%) and Spain (67%). The only country that is against the measure is France (54% against).

– Support for limiting automation to protect jobs is strongest among those under 44 (53% among 18-24- and 35-44-year olds) whereas those over 45 are more sceptical (only 45% of support on all groups over 45).

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The Transformation of Urban Spaces

The pandemic had a large impact on Europeans’ relationship with the city. Restrictions in mobility and the large shift to remote working are changing citizens’ expectations of urban spaces. There is now wider support among Europeans for greener, quieter cities:

– A majority (43% vs. 41%) of Europeans want to reduce the presence of cars in the center of cities, which was not the case a year ago. Furthermore, a significant proportion of citizens, especially young Europeans, support a ban on petrol and diesel cars.

– 67% of Europeans support fiscal measures to help people and businesses move to smaller cities and rural areas, with the highest support in Spain (83%).

As vaccine rollout progresses and Europeans start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, this years’ edition offers a glimpse into the impact of the pandemic on public opinion, from accelerated adoption of technologies to concerns regarding labor markets.

You can download Part I and Part II of European Tech Insights 2021 above.

Survey Methodology

European Tech Insights 2021 was conducted in January 2021. We interviewed 2,769 adults from 11 countries. Samples were representative in terms of age and sex. Respondents are part of recurrent panels recruited by Netquest or affiliated companies into panels via social media, direct mailing or through referrals from other respondents.

Previous Editions

European Tech Insights 2019 confirmed a shared intuition among researchers: the Fourth Industrial Revolution is producing a growing sense of insecurity and uncertainty among our fellow citizens.

European Tech Insights 2020 revealed how the onset of the pandemic had a major impact on global attitudes towards data privacy, politcs and the regulation of new technologies.

To find out more download our reports above.

Authors and contributors

Oscar Jonsson

IE University

Carlos Luca de Tena

IE University

Diego Rubio

IE University

Carlos Lastra Anadon

IE University

Irene Menéndez

IE University

Carl Benedikt Frey

University of Oxford

Christina J. Colclough

UNI Global Union