THIS YEAR HAS TESTED people around the world in ways unparalleled in history. The global health crisis from the coronavirus pandemic has led to sharp global economic downturns. Stirring further anxiety are the growing calls for social change in the face of inequality, calls triggered by the death of George Floyd in the United States that have subsequently spread around the world as citizens look inward at their own societies’ inequities.
A recent study shows how inequality in countries is being expressed on the internet. In the research, European countries dominate a ranking of overall digital quality of life. The assessment, produced by Surfshark, a virtual private network based in the British Virgin Islands, is an annual report of individuals’ experiences using the internet.
Denmark ranks No. 1 for overall digital quality of life and is closely followed by Sweden, according to the ranking. Canada ranks No. 3, while France and Norway round out the top five of 85 nations that were evaluated.
Australia, which ranked No. 1 in 2019, fell to No. 19, and the United States, ranked 11th in 2019, dropped to No. 22.
The study resonates in a year where internet usage has soared as many people are working from home to socially distance amid the pandemic. The research also underscores the importance of confronting the economic disparities in countries created by growing digital divides.
“Any country’s digital advancement and people’s online experiences have (a) tangible relation to its economic potential and (a) population’s overall well-being,” Dom Dimas, head of the Digital Quality of Life research at Surfshark, said in a statement.
The study covers 81% of the global population, or 6.3 billion people, and ranks countries on criteria that includes internet quality, affordability, cybersecurity, online government services and electronic infrastructure. The Surfshark research is based on open-source information from the databases of multiple sources, including the United Nations, the World Bank, Freedom House and the International Telecommunications Union.
In their assessment of the top-ranking countries, the study’s authors note the strong development of Denmark’s electronic infrastructure, one of the five pillars applied to assess countries. Denmark ranked No. 3 in that pillar, topped only by the United Arab Emirates at No. 1 and Sweden.
Australia and the U.S. fell from last year in part because of improvements made in the study’s methodology, Dimas says. Surfshark worked with several nongovernmental organizations to redesign the research by including more factors that influence an individual’s digital well-being.
Australia was pulled down in terms of e-security (35th globally) and because of the little existence and completeness of legislation regarding personal data protection, Dimas says. Additionally, Australia did not rank high in terms of e-infrastructure (19th globally), Dimas says, a pillar that was not considered last year.