Think Germans Are The Most Sensitive To Privacy? Others May Be More So

At conferences, I regularly make the rather bold statement that all people everywhere have the same fundamental needs and that it’s mainly the environment which forces individuals to behave differently in different parts of the world. (The rumor that I based this on Jean Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract where he says, “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” )

But is it really true that all people are the same? I discovered that the guys behind Web Global Index had some interesting data which I could interrogate.

I have no direct connection with the Web Global Index apart from the fact that they have brought interesting data to International Search Summits for the last few years. They operate a set of global surveys which can be interrogated in any number of interesting ways — including data which has not been made available publicly before.

Germans Are Most Privacy Conscious — Or Are They?

The privacy question is one that has been buzzing around for some time. I think you would find that most folks would assume that German people are amongst the most privacy-conscious in Europe, mainly because so much privacy regulation emanates from within the German state, and subsequently has made it to a European Union level. True or myth?

Then there is the statement that citizens of Asian countries are often very conscious about their identities and therefore worry a great deal about their privacy. Another myth? Data enters stage left!

The chart below shows the results from two survey waves in September 2010 and February 2011 conducted via survey in response to the question, “I am concerned about the Internet eroding my personal privacy.”

The difference between the two bars shows us the difference in sensitivity to privacy between these two periods giving us an idea of how this is trending.

Web Privacy Concerns Seen Globally - Sept 10 v Feb 11. Source: Globalwebindex


It turns out that there’s some truth in the myths — and also some surprises. So, for instance, the most privacy conscious nation on the planet bar none are the south Koreans. And yes, it’s true that many Asian markets are on the left hand side of the screen and more western markets are on the right hand side.

But that statement is really dangerous in itself as it masks some of key differences which really only prove the adage that every market is individual and different in some way.

Some interesting observations to take note of:

  • Japan, which has been cited as a nation very concerned with privacy in the past, ranks after Germany and the UK in terms of its need for privacy and just ahead of Hong Kong.
  • Despite the high levels of privacy concern in south Korea, there is actually still an upward trend in privacy concern there.
  • The predominantly English-speaking nations of India, USA, Australia and Canada have very similar levels of privacy concern all trending up.
  • Spanish-speaking Spain and Mexico have seen privacy concerns trending downwards.
  • In Europe, Spain, France and Russia are all more concerned about privacy than the German nation.
  • The Indonesians, Polish and Dutch worry the least of all (in the nations surveyed) about their own privacy.

Is This A Cultural Thing And If So, How?

Yes absolutely this demonstrates culture in action. It’s measureable and you can see the differences between nations — so why do these differences exist?

Well it’s certainly not genetics. As I said before, everyone is born equal in terms of their “culture” and this culture is by definition that part of the human experience which is communicated from parent to child during upbringing. Populations adopt “norms” which you could call national habits that basically become a sort of best practice for everyone to adopt.

In the British culture, for instance, it would be considered “rude” to be as direct with people on what you think of them than it would be for most Americans. If you wish to criticize you must do so in a much more considerate and soft way (which can mean they don’t get that you were criticizing at all). However, it is nonetheless acceptable to insult them in a friendly ironic way which an American might actually think was rude when you’re “bonding”.

Why do we do this? Probably it’s to do with the frumpyness of our royalty who lead us by example — Queen Victoria in particular would not allow many things to be discussed in public and probably has had a lot to do with this. These cultural fashions take time to shift even in the modern Internet world.

How Does This Affect My Search Marketing?

This directly affects search campaigns in many different ways. Firstly, the search terms or keywords which are used will be heavily conditioned by “culture” which in turn will affect the naming conventions of things.

Secondly, the way users will navigate websites and the information they have to give away on your web pages, will vary significantly. It would not be wise to ask south Koreans to fill in lots of personal data unless you really really needed it and conversion can be heavily impacted.

Technology adoption and style of use can also be affected by privacy concerns with users in eastern markets often choosing to adopt an anonymous identity — so if you run a social network and won’t allow anonymous users you may encounter some obstacles to your success!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Multinational Search


About The Author: is a linguist who has been specializing in international search since 1997 and is the CEO of WebCertain, the multilingual search agency and Editor-in-Chief of the blog You can follow him on Twitter here @andyatkinskruge.

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  • Bryan Coe

    Another way to look at this data: Maybe some of the countries are not so concerned about internet privacy because it is better dealt with in their country. Maybe there are less cases where companies have been compromised because of the regulations put in place by their governments. This in turn would make it less of a concern for the general public, whereas if it was seemingly common that people were exposed than they would surely be more concerned about privacy.

  • Shari Thurow

    Hi Andy-

    GREAT article! Trust, credibility, and dependability is incredibly important to communicate in a website, as a generalization.

    But with different countries, we find that we must do extra things (in text, colors, information architecture, and graphic images) to reinforce trustworthiness. For example, we find that in some European countries, the “About Us” placement is far more prominent than in the US due to privacy concerns. We also must consider additional links to the Privacy Policy, other than the footer-area only.

    That latter point? Puts another (proverbial) nail-in-the-coffin for that PageRank-sculpting nonsense. Users/searchers have privacy concerns. Why would you not link to your Privacy Policy and other important credibility pages?

    I was surprised to see France in the middle of that list.


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